Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Incarnation: The God who Suffers

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
23    “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
Matthew 1:18-25

The entire world was in chaos.  No salvation at the horizon.  All attempts to try to get to heaven failed miserably.  No religion might save anyone from the eternal punishment.  The intricate system of animal sacrifice that the Jews were doing for many centuries had become corrupt.  Even when it was not corrupt, the ritual could not save anyone from the eternal fire.  For ages Israel had hoped for salvation.  They called out to the God of their ancestors.  So Yahweh showed Himself holy to them.  Then He set the type of what was to come.  The ritual Israel’s priests were to conduct was a type of the ultimate sacrifice to be done by the Messiah.  People’s faith was supposed to be on God alone, not on the animal being sacrificed, and certainly not on the ritual.  But the human heart could not keep the faith in God.  They switched allegiance to the tradition of man.  The ritual at the temple did not bring any more meaning.  People did not feel that the animal sacrifice was bearing any hope for salvation anymore.  Its practice had been corrupted to the core.  God’s temple had become “a den of robbers” and not “a house of prayer.”  Salvation was a transaction.  People bought their salvation every year.  The priests ran their business there to enrich themselves, exploiting the need of the people’s heart for the assurance of salvation.
People grew weary.  It had been a long time since God sent His prophets.  For nearly 400 years they had not heard God’s words anymore.  Under the slavery of sin they groaned.  They wanted true salvation.  They looked at their religious leaders, and all they got was more rules and regulations.  The empty heart was filled with religious burdens of what was lawful and what was not.  Their heart became emptier.  They longed for salvation from eternal salvation, but their leaders led them to hope for the freedom from Roman occupation.  1500 years ago a similar situation haunted Israel.  It was the time when Egypt enslaved Israel.  For 400 years God did not do anything to save Israel from Egyptian slavery.  Until Moses.  Then when Moses came, God freed Israel from their misery.  But now, nothing.  Both the hands of the Romans and the hands of the Priests were heavy upon them.  They had to pay taxes to Caesar, and they also still had to pay tithe to the Priests.  Double pressures.  Not to mention that their hearts were so dry.  “Oh when would the Messiah come?” so they might have thought.
And so we think the same thing.  In the most advanced era of the history of the world, every human soul is also still searching for salvation.  Even though the Messiah had already come 2000 years ago, our souls are still floating in the air needing consolation.  We live surrounded with advanced technology to help us with living a better life.  Yet we live almost as desperately as many people lived 2000 years ago.  The oppression of our soul by sin is no more fading than what people felt in the time of Jesus.  The advanced technology we have does not help us.  Cutting edge psychology does not ease our suffering that is caused by our heart accusing us of our sins.  The oppression of the reality of life also burdens us even more.  Cancer, AIDS, Ebola, TB, Malaria, and many other scary diseases keep haunting us and our technology can’t make us live better or longer.  So we despair even at the outset of many scientific breakthroughs.  We are troubled with the prospect of our meaningless life right at the dawn of the discovery of the new space science and Nano technology.  Any hint of hope would intensify our search for salvation.  We resort to the ancient knowledge of spirituality.
When Michael Glatze felt in his body that he might have his father’s heart disease, he took a drastic turn on his life.  Michael had been living a gay lifestyle to the fullest.  He did not care whether God exists or not.  He was one of the strongest proponent of LGBT.  But he realized that nothing could help him overcome death.  He felt it deep down in his soul that he was on the wrong track.  He felt it in his spirit that he would be condemned in hell.  So he searched intensively of what could save his pity soul.  He abandoned all his fame as gay and gay activist.  He even broke up with his boyfriend, whom he called his soul-mate.  No technology, no psychology, no philosophy, nothing could satisfy his craving for salvation.  He knew all those could not save him.
Any rumor of hope would be welcome.  Any slight of hint of the coming of the promised Messiah would be refreshing to the weary soul.  And voila, suddenly a new spark began to light up.  A lowly maiden was visited by an angel of heaven.  A lowly carpenter bound to be married to the maiden was also visited by the same angel.  The message was unmistakably the message every soul on earth had been waiting for.  The Messiah will come.  Salvation will be realized.  Not a type, but the true one.  Not temporary, but the permanent one.  Not the mortal one, but the eternal salvation.  The whole world rejoiced at the prospect of the eternal salvation.  From the lowest caste in the society to the honorable foreigners of the east, all celebrated the joy of salvation.  The little baby born on the day that we now celebrate as the Christmas day was everyone’s hope.  Gabriel told Joseph that he should “call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.  Yes that baby in his fiancée’s womb was the savior of the world.  The virgin would give birth to Immanuel.
Oh the hint of hope.  On that day Jesus was born, a group of shepherds suddenly came to visit them and worshiped the baby.  They spoke of the extraordinary things that lighted up their souls.  Yes they might have been so disappointed because they had been refused any decent room in the town of their ancestor.  At the height of the birth pain, all Joseph and Mary could find was a place for animals.  Perhaps they wondered how could this baby be savior of the world, for his birth was not spectacular.  From human perspective it was very likely that He was condemned right from the start.  A savior?  Immanuel?  Not a chance!  But all of those were challenged just when the first shepherd rushed in to bow down to the baby laid in a manger.  Yes, and eight days later, when they brought Him into the temple to circumcise Him, a prophet approached them to prophesy of the how extraordinary the baby would become.  Not just one prophet but another prophetess also said the same thing.  Joseph and Mary were lifted up.  Almost two years passed, and nothing spectacular happened.  But another unexpected thing happened, a group of Magi came from the east, finding them in their humble hut, and worshiped the toddler, bringing frankincense, gold, and myrrh.  They said that they were guided by a star.  And so the hope was confirmed.
But many did not know that this extraordinary baby would suffer greatly in order to save the world.  The imagination of the people was lost in the hype for exuberant and jubilant celebration.  They thought that the Messiah would be riding a mighty horse, wielding a sword, leading a mighty army, and kicking the Romans out of Israel’s territory.  They thought that the Messiah would establish the glory of the Davidic kingdom on earth once more.  They thought that the Messiah would stay forever with them in that present bodily form and kept diseases at bay, prevented death from creeping in, casted out demons into oblivion, and supplied them with food in abundance.  They were thinking in terms of the worldly imagination.  The earthly desire dominated their heart that they were forcing the Messiah to serve their demand.
But this Messiah refused to be made king by the people.  That’s not why He came into the world.  His incarnation was not meant to establish His kingdom in the earthly manner.  He is King alright, but not like what people perceived.  He came to be the ultimate sacrifice for the atonement of sin.  His path was not a happy path.  His path was a suffering path.  He was born into the world to be nailed to the cross.  He knew it even before He was born.  Yet He came.  He did not have to come.  Yet He came.  The mind of Jesus Christ, who can fathom?  Paul wrote in Philippians 2:5-8:
Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
The pain of being slandered, the pain of being rejected, the pain of being treated unjustly, the pain of being flogged even though He committed no sin, the pain of being given a death sentence without any legitimate reason, the pain of being deserted and betrayed by His disciples, the pain of being mocked by those He healed, and the pain of being forsaken by the Father, all of those He had to bear for the sake of saving His people.  Yes He knew it even before the world began.  Yet He did not cancel His coming.  He could refuse to come.  He also could call 12 legion of angels to defend Him.  He could send the entire world into oblivion with a single command.  He could come down from that cursed cross and showed the world that He was the Son of God.  He did not do any of those things.  All for the sake of saving those He loved.  He endured them patiently in complete obedience to the Father.
            Brothers and sisters, this is the meaning of incarnation.  Christmas is meaningless without the sacrifice of the Messiah.  The birth of an extraordinary baby is useless without the anointed Jesus sacrifices His life on that cross.  For without His ultimate sacrifice, the whole world is condemned eternally.  No salvation can be granted without the suffering and death of Christ.
            Michael Glatze found Christ.  He left his sinful life.  He gave his life for the sake of Christ soon afterwards, knowing that Christ has saved his soul from the eternal damnation.  When he renounced his old gay life, he received tons of condemning messages.  He went through the pain of rejection from the community he was a part of.  He pressed on.  He went through the suffering of leaving his old lifestyle.  But he did not give up.  He did not go back to his old life.  He finally got married to his girlfriend.  And he became a pastor in a very conservative church.
            As you are anticipating Christmas, have you ever thought that His coming into the world means pain and suffering?  The way the world celebrates Christmas today is devoid of any theme of suffering and pain.  The “Christmas” of the world is the celebration of human indulgence.  The “Christmas” of the world desires not suffering and pain.  But the true Christmas is loaded with the theme of suffering and pain.  Right from the beginning, Christ was rejected.  Only animals received Him.  That’s the true Christmas.  How are we then identifying our Christmas?  Is it a suffering-less Christmas?  Christ’s Christmas was full of suffering.  His entire life was full of suffering.  Even His death was a painful death.  Not only physically, but also spiritually.
            What is the point of knowing all this, my brothers and sisters?  If not to join in His suffering?  1 Peter 4:13-16 encourages us:
12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.
In Philippians 3:10 Paul says:
10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.
We too are given an opportunity to share in the suffering of Christ.  In sharing His suffering, we too may share in his glory.  When we live in this world as followers of Christ, we too will suffer.  To avoid the suffering because of Christ may only mean that we do not partake in His salvation.  The law of the world tries to persuade us to avoid suffering at all cost.  What will you choose?  To embrace Christ at all cost, even though it means suffering for His name?  Or to avoid suffering at all cost, even though it means rejecting Christ?  I sincerely hope you choose to embrace Christ at all cost.  In that spirit, we may anticipate Christmas in clearer understanding of what it cost Jesus to come to earth 2000 years ago.  Amen!

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