I am a news addict; I love to watch the daily news bulletins, but I also like to watch documentaries on current affairs. The news bulletin focus on what has happened, and the documentaries look in depth at why those events happen. When it comes to how the New Testament talks about the events of the first Christmas, we have something similar. It’s a little bit of a generalisation but mostly accurate to say the Gospels describe what happened when Jesus was born, and the letters of the New Testament talk about why those events happened.
If we just focus exclusively on the events of Jesus birth, then we miss the chance to challenged in our thinking and living by some profound theology about what the events of Jesus birth and incarnation means. Theologian James Packer described that theology like this
“It is here, in the thing that happened at the first Christmas, that the profoundest and most unfathomable depths of the Christian revelation lie. ‘The Word became flesh’ (John 1:14); God became man; the divine Son became a Jew; the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. And there was no illusion or deception in this: the babyhood of the Son of God was a reality. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the Incarnation.”
Packer is saying there, that for us, as Christians, the staggering truth about Christmas is that Jesus was both God and human in a way that neither diminished his divinity or humanity. This is what we as Christians call the Incarnation. There is one passage which perhaps more than any other focuses on this great truth of the Incarnation of the Son of God and I’d like us to look at in a bit more depth. Here it is:
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death –
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
That passage reminds us that Saying “Jesus is Lord” is about having
John Stott says this passage has two great dimensions we need to understand if we want to real understand the Incarnation,
1. A THEOLOGICAL CONVICTION ABOUT JESUS
Saying Jesus is Lord means having a theological conviction about Jesus, about who he is and his relationship with God the father, it means being convinced as the writer of this hymn was that Jesus is 100 % God.
We know that Paul and his contemporaries believed in the divinity of Jesus because Paul in this passage …..
TRANSFERRED A GOD TITLE TO JESUS
“kyrios” in Greek in Paul’s day meant different things depending on the context, it could just mean a polite title like “sir” but for the earliest Christians it was a title given to Jesus, he was known as THE LORD JESUS CHRIST
The background to its use here is the Greek translation of the Old Testament which used “kyrios” to translate “YAWEH,” the most sacred name of God.
For Paul a Jew steeped in the Old Testament to say that Jesus was Lord was tantamount to saying Jesus was God. Paul also
TRANSFERRED A GOD VERSE TO JESUS
Isa 45: 23 By myself I have sworn,
my mouth has uttered in all integrity
a word that will not be revoked:
before me every knee will bow;
by me every tongue will swear.
Paul shows us that the background to his use of the word Lord is the Old Testament by taking a verse that clearly was about Yahweh from the OT and applies it to Jesus. The honour that belongs to Yahweh also applies to Jesus. He is equating Jesus with Yahweh, an astonishing thing for Jewish man to do in the 1st cent AD and yet he went further, Paul
TRANSFERED GOD LIKE WORSHIP TO JESUS
“bowing before” …. The final part of the jigsaw that shows that the theological conviction of Paul and the earliest Christians was that Jesus was god is shown in the way that the language of worship, was transferred to Jesus, Jesus was the object of worship and in Judaism only God should be worshipped. The implication is inescapable, Jesus is God.
Every day I used see the Jehovah’s Witnesses stand outside the stations in Edinburgh handing out their literature. If you were to talk to them they will say that the church went seriously wrong in believing Jesus is God and that the very earliest Christians didn’t believe that, well we have just seen differently haven’t we? We can be confident in our theological conviction that Jesus is God.
So the first lasting implication of Christmas for Christians is this theological conviction that Jesus is God and that he was fully God in away that didn’t mean he was any less human. But Paul doesn’t leave it there, he reminds us belief has to express itself in behaviour.
2. RADICAL COMMITMENT TO JESUS
This amazing passage, which may originally have been worship song, reminds us that its not enough just to believe the right things about Jesus. Paul tells us that because of our theological conviction about Jesus we should have a radical commitment to Jesus
The fundamental message of the Roman Empire which it proclaimed to all it’s citizens was that “Caesar is Lord.” That he was the one with ultimate authority over everyone and everything.
Proclaiming “Jesus is Lord” was for the first generation of believers a radical act of commitment to Jesus that gave Him the unique place of ultimate and unchallenged authority over their lives and equally importantly to deny Caesar that place. Nothing has changed, saying JESUS IS LORD, means having the same radical commitment to Jesus Lordship today. To say Jesus is Lord, is to be a subversive in this world, we are saying that who ever or whatever claims ultimate authority over is to be deposed by our loyalty and obedience to Jesus our Lord.
John Stott explains the all-encompassing nature of Jesus’ lordship and our commitment to it
“The two-word affirmation *Kyrios Iesous* [Jesus is Lord] sounded pretty harmless at first hearing. But it has far- reaching ramifications. Not only does it express our conviction that he is God and Saviour, but it also indicates our radical commitment to him.
The dimensions of this commitment are intellectual (bringing our minds under Christ’s yoke), moral (accepting his standards and obeying his commands), vocational (spending our lives in his liberating service), social (seeking to penetrate society with his values), political(refusing to idolize any human institution) and global (being jealous for the honour and glory of his name). “
The claim Jesus is Lord excludes all other claims of ultimate loyalty, confessing the Lordship of Jesus means being committed to rejecting and subverting the lordship of Caesar that is whatever claims the position of authority over our life that jesus should have.”
This is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, to live out a life in which every area of our existence is a living demonstration that Jesus is indeed Lord.
Let’s remember the events around Jesus birth this Christmas but lets also remind us of the theology of Christmas and what it tells us about who Jesus is and what our response to Him should be.