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Archive for December, 2008

12-29-thomasbecketThomas Becket was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 to 1170.  Appointed by Henry II, Thomas was also assassinated in Canterbury Cathedral by the orders of Henry. Henry and Thomas had been in conflict over issues concerning the rights of the Church in relation to the State.    Thomas was born to a wealthy family, received a splendid education, and became skilled in sporting activities.  Noticing his obvious talents, Becket was made Lord Chancellor of England and supported Henry’s laws which often brought him into conflict with the Church.   To gain further control of the church, Henry appointed Thomas to be Archbishop of Canterbury, thinking that he could control the Church through Thomas.  After his appointment as archbishop, Thomas appears to have become a devout ascetic, engaging in works of charity and rigorous self-discipline.  Henry and Thomas came into conflict over many issues.  Henry wanted to be rid of Thomas and some of his Henry’s friends decided to assassinate Thomas, which they did on December 29, 1170, in the cathedral as monks were chanting their hymns.  It is still debated whether Henry actually wanted Becket to be killed.  Becket is, nevertheless, considered to have been martyred for his stand for Christ and His Church; Scripture Reading: Matthew 10:16-22.

CollectAlmighty and everlasting God, who dost enkindle the flame of thy love in the hearts of the Saints; Grant to us, thy humble servants, the same faith and power of love; that, as we rejoice in their triumphs, we may profit by their examples; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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12-28-innocentsIn Matthew 2:16-18, we are told that Herod issued an order that all male babies two years old and under should be killed.  When Herod heard from the wise men that the King of the Jews had been born, he was determined to kill the Christ child.  Since he did not know the child’s true identity, he was trying to make sure that he killed the child by killing all the children who were born during the likely time period of the birth of Jesus.   No one is sure how many infants were killed, estimates ranging from 6 to 64,000.  Many Christians considered these infants to be the first martyrs, since they were killed because of the arrival of Christ into the world; Scripture Reading: Matthew 2:13-18; Collect: O ALMIGHTY God, who out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast ordained strength, and madest infants to glorify thee by their deaths; Mortify and kill all vices in us, and so strengthen us by thy grace, that by the innocency of our lives, and constancy of our faith even unto death, we may glorify thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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12-27-stjohnJohn, one of the twelve apostles, wrote the Gospel that bears his name, the epistles of I, II, and III John, as well as the book of Revelation.  In the Gospel of John, he is referred to as the “disciple whom Jesus loved.”  John and his brother James, fishermen, were sons of Zebedee.  They were fishermen who left all to follow Jesus. He, Peter, and James were witnesses to some events that the other disciples were not.  Of all the apostles, John alone was at the foot of the cross as Jesus died and was one of the first witnesses of the resurrection.  He and Peter worked together in the early parts of the book of Acts to establish and confirm the early Christian movement.  According to some traditions, John was the bishop of the church in Ephesus before being exiled to Patmos, where he wrote the book of Revelation.  It is said that he taught Polycarp who later became the bishop of Smyrna; Scripture Reading: John 21:19-25.

CollectO MERCIFUL Lord, we beseech thee to cast thy bright beams of light upon thy Church, that it, being illumined by the doctrine of thy blessed Apostle and Evangelist Saint John, may so walk in the light of thy truth, that it may at length attain to life everlasting; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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12-26-ststephenStephen was the first martyr of the Christian Church after the death of Christ.  He is considered to be one of the first deacons, being chosen to help the apostles serve those in need in order that the apostles might give themselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the word.  Put on trial before the Jews, his defense further enraged them.  He was stoned, while a young man named Saul, (later the Apostle Paul) consented to the death of Stephen and held the cloaks of those who stoned him; Scripture Reading: Acts 7:55-60.

Collect: GRANT, O Lord, that, in all our sufferings here upon earth for the testimony of thy truth, we may stedfastly look up to heaven, and by faith behold the glory that shall be revealed; and, being filled with the Holy Ghost, may learn to love and bless our persecutors by the example of thy first Martyr Saint Stephen, who prayed for his murderers to thee, O blessed Jesus, who standest at the right hand of God to succour all those who suffer for thee. our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen.

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12-25-christmasOn this day we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The gospels of Matthew and Luke and Luke give us a great deal of information concerning the events surrounding his birth.  Though we are not certain concerning the exact date of the birth of Jesus, December 25 was decided upon in Rome in 336.  Christmas Day is celebrated as we remember the greatest gift that God to the world:  His only Son.  God became man so that he is called “Emmanuel,” “God with us.”  As we share gifts with one another, let us remember the gift of Jesus who came to save his people from their sins. Scripture Reading: Luke 2:1-14

 

Collect: ALMIGHTY God, who hast given us thy only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin; Grant that we being regenerate, and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

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gloryofthelamb1But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. (Micah 5:2)

One of the most popular writers in America today is the New Age guru, Deepak Chopra.  Chopra’s philosophy is basically a westernized, self-help version of Hinduism, influenced by Vedanta and the writings of the Bhagavad Gita, one of the holy books of Hinduism.  Occasionally he ventures into the realm of Christianity, trying to make Jesus fit into Hindu ideas and the current fad of New Age mysticism.   Oprah Winfrey loves the writings of Deepak Chopra, so it is not surprising that many people are quite familiar with his work. 

A few years ago, he wrote a book entitled The Third Jesus, in which he Chopra basically says that we must reject the Jesus of history, the Jesus of the Church, and discover the third Jesus who was a spiritual master who attained enlightenment and God-consciousness, just as we all can.  For Chopra, Jesus is not THE savior, but A Savior.  Furthermore, for Chopra, Jesus is certainly not the eternal God incarnate in human flesh.  Chopra writes that Jesus did not “physically descend from God’s dwelling place…nor did he return to sit at the right hand of a literal throne.”  In other words, Chopra denies the eternal existence of Christ and the eternal deity of Christ.  Jesus was just an ordinary man who happened to achieve the enlightenment of God-consciousness.  For him, Jesus was divine only in the sense that we are all divine.  Oddly enough, Chopra tries to use the Bible, at least parts of it, and attempts to make the sayings of Jesus fit it into this system of Hindu thought.  But what does the Bible actually say in respect to the traditional teaching of the Church that Jesus is, in fact, the one and only, eternal Son of God? 

            For the past few weeks we have been looking at this prophecy concerning how Christ was to be born in Bethlehem.  We have seen that he was no ordinary child, but rather, he was born a king, the ruler who would shepherd Israel.  But this verse also teaches that the Son of God existed long before he was born in Bethlehem.  Every Sunday we confess our faith by the means of the Nicene Creed, affirming that the Son is eternal, just as the Father is eternal.  The Son has no beginning and no end.  He always existed in the bosom of the Father.    We confess this truth by saying that we believe in “one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God:  Begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made; Being of once substance with the Father; By whom all things were made:  Who for us men and for our salvation came from heaven.”  Notice how we boldly confess that the Son is God, just as much as the Father is God.  The Son, like the Father, existed from all eternity past; and the Son, in contradiction to Deepak Chopra, “came down from heaven.”

            This truth concerning the eternal pre-existence of our Lord Jesus Christ is spoken of in this prophecy in Micah 5:2.  The prophecy tells us that his goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.    This one who would be born in Bethlehem, had an existence before Bethlehem, therefore he is different from any king, or any other man who has ever been born, for his goings forth had been from of old, from everlasting.  Some scholars have said that this phrase, “from everlasting,” simply means that the ruler spoken of here would come from an ancient, royal ancestry.  But the word that is used here for everlasting, though it can mean simply “long ago,” is the same word used in Psalm 90:2:   “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.”  This ruler spoken of in Micah 5:2 has his origins in eternity past.  Though many babies were born in Bethlehem, of which children, of which men, could it be said that their goings forth had been from of old, from everlasting?  Could any mere man make such a claim?  Therefore, this verse can only refer to our Lord Jesus Christ.  Other men, other rulers, such as David, came out of Bethlehem, but only of Christ could it be said that his goings forth had been from everlasting. 

            At this time of year we love to dwell upon the theme of God becoming man.  We quote so often that saying, “They shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.”  This is the miracle of the incarnation.  God became man.  What a mysterious, historical occurrence the incarnation is!  But just as mysterious, just as difficult to fathom, is that the Son of God existed long before he was conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary.

            I remember sitting in a seminary classroom many years ago and hearing one of my friends express his doubts concerning the pre-existence of Christ.  Even the seminary professor was shocked to hear what this future pastor said, and rightfully so.  The eternal pre-existence of Christ is one of the most important teachings of our faith, that Jesus Christ is the eternal God in the flesh.  It is a belief which separates us from the cults, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who believe that Jesus Christ was a created being.  If you want to know whether someone is orthodox in his doctrine, don’t merely ask, “Do you believe in Jesus?”  The Hindu will tell you he believes in Jesus.  The Buddhist will tell you he believes in Jesus.  The Muslim will tell you he believes in Jesus.  Even the liberal, Christian theologian will tell you he believes in Jesus.  Rather ask them, “Do you believe that Jesus is God, the eternal second person of the holy Trinity?”  If you deny the eternal existence of Christ, the eternal deity of Christ, then you deny the Christian faith altogether.   The Nicene Creed was hammered out by the Church to say once and for all that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God.   Instead of merely asking people in our generation, “Do you believe in Jesus?”, we must ask them, “Do you believe in the Jesus as defined in the Athanasian Creed?”, which states:

Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the right faith is, that we believe and confess, that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man; God, of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man of the substance of his mother, born in the world; perfect God and perfect man, of a rational soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father, as touching His godhead; and inferior to the Father, as touching His manhood; who, although He is God and man, yet he is not two, but one Christ; one, not by conversion of the godhead into flesh but by taking of the manhood into God; one altogether; not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person. For as the rational soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ; who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead. He ascended into heaven, He sits at the right hand of the Father, God Almighty, from whence He will come to judge the quick and the dead. At His coming all men will rise again with their bodies and shall give account for their own works.  And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.  This is the catholic faith, which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved.

 

When we ask people if they believe in Jesus, this is the Jesus whom we ask them to embrace.  Not a “third Jesus,” but the Jesus of the inerrant word of God, the Jesus that the Church has recognized down through the ages in its interpretation of the word of God until arrogant men of the last few centuries began to posit their own ideas of Jesus to replace those of the ancient creeds and holy men of the Church

At this time of year, we often think of St. Nicholas, a bishop of the Christian church, a man who was, indeed, very kind and generous to all people, especially children.  We have several large nutcrackers at home that we bring out at Christmas, but my favorites is one of St. Nicholas, dressed in his bishop’s robe, holding his bishop’s crook, wearing the bishop’s miter.  St. Nicholas was not only a kind and generous man, he was a bishop who stood against the heresy proposed by Arius, that the Son of God was a created being.  According to some accounts, St. Nicholas on one occasion slapped Arius across the face for teaching this heretical doctrine.  The Church worded our Nicene Creed so carefully to protect us from ever denying the eternal deity of Jesus Christ.   It is one of the strangest things that bishops, priests, and other clergy in the Christian Church can say the Nicene Creed every Sunday, confessing they believe this truth, when, in fact they do not believe it, and say so publicly in their writings.   It is an incredible thing that Deepak Chopra’s book was endorsed by some Episcopalian, Methodist, and Roman Catholic scholars and theologians.  But the bedrock of the Christian faith is that Jesus Christ is the unique, one and only, eternal Son of God.

            Our Lord himself claimed that He had existed long before his incarnation.  In John 6:33, our Lord said, “For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.”  Notice how he says that he came down from heaven.  No one else could say that.  You and I were born, but we couldn’t say that we came down from heaven.   In verse 38 of the same chapter, he said, “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.”  Notice again, “I came down from heaven.” He does not say that he was born in Bethlehem,  grew up,  and became a great, enlightened teacher, but rather, “I came down from heaven.”   Then, in verse 62, Jesus says, “What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before?”  Jesus was in heaven, long before he was born in Bethlehem, and when he ascended into heaven, he was returning to the place where he had come from, where he was before.    He was in heaven, in a state of glory, long before he came down to this earth and was made flesh.  As you can see, the Jesus of Deepak Chopra is a complete fabrication.  Chopra may not understand what Jesus was saying, but the Jews knew what he was saying, and they were outraged.  Look at verses 41 and 42 of that same chapter:  “The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, I am the bread which came down from heaven.   And they said, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? how is it then that he saith, I came down from heaven?”    For them, like Chopra and these other New Age heretics, Jesus was just the son of Joseph.  How can he say that he came down from heaven?  They were beginning to see what Jesus was portraying himself to be—someone who had an existence before his birth in Bethlehem.  They were thinking, “This man was just born about 30 years ago.  We know his father and mother.  How can he say that he came down from heaven?” Christ was definitely telling them here that he had an existence before he became incarnate.

            The Scripture tells us that he existed when this world was created.  In John 1:1-3, we read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  The same was in the beginning with God.   All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.”  Of course, this Word that was God was our Lord Jesus Christ, for John tells us in verse 14 of that same chapter, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”  That the Word of God is another name for Jesus is revealed again in  Rev. 19:11-13:   “And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war.  His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself.   And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God.”   The writer to the Hebrews also tells us that the Son of God was present at the creation of the world:   “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,   Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds” (Hebrews 1:1-2).      

            Seeing that our Lord existed before the creation of the world, can we go back even further and find his existence?  Yes!  We can go back into eternity for there never was a time when our Lord Jesus did not exist.  Not only was Christ present at the creation of the universe, he existed before its creation.  In what we call the “High Priestly Prayer,” just before his crucifixion, our Lord looked to heaven and said, “And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was. “  Jesus said in John 8:56-59:   “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.  Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?  Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.  Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.”  The modern, liberal theologians might miss Jesus’ meaning in John 8:58, but the Jews didn’t.  They knew he was claiming to be the eternal God so they attempted to stone him as a blasphemer.

            Then, of course, we have this prophecy in Micah 5:2:  “whose goings forth have been of old, from everlasting.”  The first time he came forth was when he came forth from the Father, what theologians call the eternal generation of the Son.  You may think that I am contradicting myself and say, ““But you just told us He was not created, that he always existed. “ That’s right.  Then how can He have come from the Father, and not have been created by Him?  He eternally came from the Father.  Article II of our Articles of Religion describes him as “the Son which is the Word of the Father; begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father.” In one of the most profound mysteries, beyond human comprehension, Jesus was eternally begotten, he eternally went forth, and he has been going forth ever since.

            In time and place, he went forth before he was born.  We read of His going forth in the Old Testament.  We call these “pre-incarnate appearances” of our Lord, those times when the Son took on a human shape and appeared to men.   There were times in the Old Testament when Christ appeared to men before He was made flesh and dwelled among us.   Theologians call these appearances “Christophanies.”   It was God the Son, for example  who appeared to Hagar in Gen. 16: 7-13:  

And the angel of the LORD found her by a fountain of water in the wilderness, by the fountain in the way to Shur. And he said, Hagar, Sarai’s maid, whence camest thou? and whither wilt thou go? And she said, I flee from the face of my mistress Sarai. And the angel of the LORD said unto her, Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands. And the angel of the LORD said unto her, I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude. And the angel of the LORD said unto her, Behold, thou art with child, and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael; because the LORD hath heard thy affliction.   And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren. And she called the name of the LORD that spake unto her, Thou God seest me: for she said, Have I also here looked after him that seeth me? 

Sometimes, when the Scriptures describe an angel of the Lord, it may be one of the created angelic beings, but at other times we find that the angel of the Lord is none than God himself.  Hagar realizes this when she says that it was the Lord who spoke to her there.

It was God the Son who appeared to Jacob:

And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.   And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him.   And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.   And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob.   And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.   And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there.   And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.  There can be no doubt that this man that Jacob wrestled with was our Lord Jesus Christ.  He was in the form of a man, but then Jacob realizes who he is when he says, “I have seen God face to face.” (Gen. 32:24-30)

 

This man turns out to be none other than God, and therefore, another pre-incarnate appearance of Christ.

 

It was God the Son who went before the children of Israel to bring them to the Promised Land.  God said in Exodus 23:20-23:

 

Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared.    Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions: for my name is in him.   But if thou shalt indeed obey his voice, and do all that I speak; then I will be an enemy unto thine enemies, and an adversary unto thine adversaries.   For mine Angel shall go before thee, and bring thee in unto the Amorites, and the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Canaanites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites: and I will cut them off.

 

 Who is this angel that can pardon, or not pardon sins? Pardoning sin is God’s work, not the work of an angel.  Who is this angel that has God’s name in him.  It can only be the Son of God.   Even the early Father of the Church interpreted the Scripture in this way.  Tertullian (160-220), one of the early Church Fathers,  in his work, An Answer to the Jews, wrote:

 

For He who ever spake to Moses was the Son of God Himself; who, too, was always seen.   For God the Father none ever saw, and lived.   And accordingly it is agreed that the Son of God Himself spake to Moses, and said to the people, “Behold, I send mine angel before thy” – that is, the people’s – “face, to guard thee on the march, and to introduce thee into the land which I have prepared thee: attend to him, and be not disobedient to him; for he hath not escaped thy notice, since my name is upon him.” For Joshua was to introduce the people into the land of promise, not Moses. Now He called him an “angel,” on account of the magnitude of the mighty deeds which he was to achieve (which mighty deeds Joshua the son of Nun did, and you yourselves read), and on account of his office of prophet announcing (to wit) the divine will; just as withal the Spirit, speaking in the person of the Father, calls the forerunner of Christ, John, a future “angel,” through the prophet: “Behold, I send mine angel before Thy” – that is, Christ’s – “face, who shall prepare Thy way before Thee.” Nor is it a novel practice to the Holy Spirit to call those “angels” whom God has appointed as ministers of His power. For the same John is called not merely an “angel” of Christ, but withal a “lamp” shining before Christ: for David predicts, “I have prepared the lamp for my Christ;” and him Christ Himself, coming “to fulfil the prophets,” called so to the Jews. “He was,” He says, “the burning and shining lamp;” as being he who not merely “prepared His ways in the desert,” but withal, by pointing out “the Lamb of God,” illumined the minds of men by his heralding, so that they understood Him to be that Lamb whom Moses was wont to announce as destined to suffer. Thus, too, (was the son of Nun called) Joshua, on account of the future mystery of his name: for that name (He who spake with Moses) confirmed as His own which Himself had conferred on him, because He had bidden him thenceforth be called, not “angel” nor “Oshea,” but “Joshua.” Thus, therefore, each name is appropriate to the Christ of God-that He should be called Jesus as well (as Christ).

The Apostle Paul himself said that Christ was in the wilderness with the people, and that they tempted Christ (I Cor. 10:4,9).

It was God the Son who appeared to Gideon in Judges 6: 12-23:  

And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him, and said unto him, The LORD is with thee, thou mighty man of valour.   And Gideon said unto him, Oh my Lord, if the LORD be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt? but now the LORD hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites.   And the LORD looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?   And he said unto him, Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.   And the LORD said unto him, Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man.   And he said unto him, If now I have found grace in thy sight, then shew me a sign that thou talkest with me.   Depart not hence, I pray thee, until I come unto thee, and bring forth my present, and set it before thee. And he said, I will tarry until thou come again.   And Gideon went in, and made ready a kid, and unleavened cakes of an ephah of flour: the flesh he put in a basket, and he put the broth in a pot, and brought it out unto him under the oak, and presented it.   And the angel of God said unto him, Take the flesh and the unleavened cakes, and lay them upon this rock, and pour out the broth. And he did so. Then the angel of the LORD put forth the end of the staff that was in his hand, and touched the flesh and the unleavened cakes; and there rose up fire out of the rock, and consumed the flesh and the unleavened cakes. Then the angel of the LORD departed out of his sight.   And when Gideon perceived that he was an angel of the LORD, Gideon said, Alas, O Lord GOD! for because I have seen an angel of the LORD face to face.   And the LORD said unto him, Peace be unto thee; fear not: thou shalt not die.

 

You will notice in all these passages how the narrator switches from calling this person the “angel of the Lord,” to “the Lord.”  Again, we have here the Son of God, for this angel receives a sacrifice, and offerings are not made to angels, only to God.  So, this angel of the Lord here is the Lord, and Gideon thinks he should die because he has seen the Lord. 

            The more modern commentators on Scripture are very hesitant to say that these are pre-incarnate appearances of our Lord, but earlier commentators had no such difficulty.  As an example, I offer a section here from Matthew Henry, the 18th century scholar, commenting on this passage concerning Gideon: 

The person that gave him the commission was an angel of the Lord; it should seem not a created angel, but the Son of God himself, the eternal Word, the Lord of the angels, who then appeared upon some great occasions in human shape, as a prelude (says the learned bishop Patrick) to what he intended in the fullness of time, when he would take our nature upon him, as we say, for good and all.  This angel is here called Jehovah, the incommunicable name of God (v. 14, 16), and he said, I will be with thee. 

As you can see, Matthew Henry saw Jesus here.  But we can go back further in Church history and see that the early Church fathers saw this angel of the Lord as none other than the Son of God.   Irenaeus (?-202), in his Against Heresies, Book Four, Chapter 10, wrote: 

For if ye had believed Moses, ye would also have believed Me; for he wrote of Me;” [saying this,] no doubt, because the Son of God is implanted everywhere throughout his writings: at one time, indeed, speaking with Abraham, when about to eat with him; at another time with Noah, giving to him the dimensions [of the ark]; at another; inquiring after Adam; at another, bringing down judgment upon the Sodomites; and again, when He becomes visible, and directs Jacob on his journey, and speaks with Moses from the bush.

For the early Church Fathers, when people see God in the Old Testament, that is actually an appearance of the Son of God.

 

It was the Son of God who appeared to Manoah, the father of Samson in Judges 13: 15-23:

 And Manoah said unto the angel of the LORD, I pray thee, let us detain thee, until we shall have made ready a kid for thee.   And the angel of the LORD said unto Manoah, Though thou detain me, I will not eat of thy bread: and if thou wilt offer a burnt offering, thou must offer it unto the LORD. For Manoah knew not that he was an angel of the LORD.   And Manoah said unto the angel of the LORD, What is thy name, that when thy sayings come to pass we may do thee honour?   And the angel of the LORD said unto him, Why askest thou thus after my name, seeing it is secret?   So Manoah took a kid with a meat offering, and offered it upon a rock unto the LORD: and the angel did wondrously; and Manoah and his wife looked on.   For it came to pass, when the flame went up toward heaven from off the altar, that the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar. And Manoah and his wife looked on it, and fell on their faces to the ground.   But the angel of the LORD did no more appear to Manoah and to his wife. Then Manoah knew that he was an angel of the LORD.   And Manoah said unto his wife, We shall surely die, because we have seen God.   But his wife said unto him, If the LORD were pleased to kill us, he would not have received a burnt offering and a meat offering at our hands, neither would he have shewed us all these things, nor would as at this time have told us such things as these.

Who was this angel of the Lord?  Who was this angel who received a sacrifice?  Who was this angel who ascended in the fire and smoke of the sacrifice?  Manoah’s wife knew who it was.  She said, “We shall surely die, because we have seen God.” This was not merely a created angel, but God himself.

Each of these instances  were manifestations of the Son of God, sometimes in the form of an angel, sometimes in the form of a man, not that he was actually man at these times, because he did not become man until he was conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary. These were the old times when he was going forth into the world, even then.

            And now in Matthew 1 and 2, we see another time he went forth, this time in the most astonishing way of all.  He went forth to be conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary.  This one who whose goings forth have been of old, this one whose goings forth have been from everlasting, goes forth one more time.  This time, he becomes flesh, and the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.  Justin Martyr (100-165), in his First Apology,  put it like this:

From the writings of Moses also this will be manifest; for thus it is written in them, “And the Angel of God spake to Moses, in a flame of fire out of the bush, and said, I am that I am, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God of thy fathers; go down into Egypt, and bring forth My people.”  And if you wish to learn what follows, you can do so from the same writings; for it is impossible to relate the whole here. But so much is written for the sake of proving that Jesus the Christ is the Son of God and His Apostle, being of old the Word, and appearing sometimes in the form of fire, and sometimes in the likeness of angels; but now, by the will of God, having become man for the human race, He endured all the sufferings which the devils instigated the senseless Jews to inflict upon Him; who, though they have it expressly affirmed in the writings of Moses, “And the angel of God spake to Moses in a flame of fire in a bush, and said, I am that I am, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,” yet maintain that He who said this was the Father and Creator of the universe. 

Justin Martyr is arguing that Christ came forth many times in various forms in the Old Testament, but when he was born in Bethlehem, be came forth as flesh and blood.

            What a wonderful going forth this is!  Had he not gone forth in this way, we would have been lost and doomed forever.  Each time He went forth it was important—to comfort Hagar, to tell Abraham he was going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, to guide Israel, to encourage Gideon.  These were very important reasons for him to go forth.  But none was so important as the reason he went forth this time.  Why did He go forth this time?  The reason we celebrate this going forth at this time of year is found in Matthew 1:20-21:   “But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.   And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.”  This time he goes forth to save his people from their sins.  The Apostle Paul put it like this in Galatians 4:4-5:   “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” We were under the curse of the law, for we are all breakers of the law of God.  We would have been condemned to hell forever and ever, but God sent forth his Son to redeem us from the curse of the law, becoming a curse for us.  There was no other way to redeem us from the curse of the law.  He had to be born, had to be made flesh, and give his life as a substitute.  He came to redeem.  The word redeem means “to release by the payment of a price.”  The ultimate price had to be paid for our redemption—His life in the place of ours.  As we remember the baby, the manger, let us not forget the cross, for even here at this sweet nativity scene, the shadow of the cross falls over his manger cradle.  He was born to die so that we might be saved, redeemed, released, and be adopted as God’s sons.  “The Son of God became the Son of man that the sons of men might become the sons of God.”   This was the only way, and the one whose goings forth have been of old, from everlasting, came forth to die so that we might receive the adoption of sons.

            It may be difficult to grasp the Son of God as he eternally proceeds from the Father.  It may be difficult to understand the appearances of Christ in the Old Testament before he was born.  But come now to Bethlehem, to this going forth, and see this eternal Son in human flesh.  Grasp this man, Christ Jesus, and know that you are also clinging to God.  Martin Luther put it like this:

If you want to know this Child aright, go first to Bethlehem, that is, learn that this Child is born of the Virgin Mary, true man, flesh, blood, and bone like yours and mine, yet without sin, with a mission to fulfill and discharge in this world, namely, as Micah says, to be a Ruler who would redeem His people from sin and eternal death. Then, after these things are well learned and the Child is found, seen, and touched in the manger, the light will dawn, too, that this son of Mary is also the Son of God, born of God before time and from everlasting. He has two goings forth or births, and yet is only one person. Consequently, when you lay hold of this Man, Christ, you have laid hold of God. (CompleteSermons of Martin Luther, vol. 5, 213,4)

            Before we leave this scene, let me remind you that this one whose goings forth have been of old, from everlasting, will one day go forth once more.  He will descend once more.  Every morning, throughout the Advent season we pray this prayer: 

ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.

The one who went forth to Bethlehem will one day go forth from his throne.  St. Paul put it like this:  

For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.   For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.   For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (I Thess. 4:14-17)

What a difference there will be between this coming and His coming to Bethlehem!  At this time of year, when we celebrate his coming as a babe in Bethlehem, we also need to remind ourselves and others that this babe will come again, not as a babe lying in a manger, but as a king coming to judge heaven and earth, to display his wrath, and to carry his people home.

As we celebrate the Christmas season, what happens to your festive attitude when you think of Christ coming in the clouds of glory?  For those who know Christ, their hearts beat with greater joy and excitement, for we are living in great expectation of this going forth, looking forward to it just as much as those Jewish people awaited his birth in Bethlehem.  But if you are not a believer in Jesus Christ, this next going forth of Christ should strike fear to your hearts.  The Christian should be the only one celebrating Christmas, for we are the only ones who have anything to celebrate.  All those outside of Christ should be weeping and wailing at this time of year, for the thoughts of this coming to Bethlehem should remind them of this second coming when he arrives for judgment.

But even to the person outside of Christ, there is hope.  He went forth to Bethlehem, and thank God, he still goes forth today by the power and might of the Holy Spirit.  How we pray that he would go forth this very day, that he would go forth to conquer the proud hearts of those who refuse to believe and obey him, to subdue hearts that have been hardened by sin, to break the iron gates that bar the sinner’s heart, to cut the iron chains of sin that bind men.  Let us thank God that He still goes forth.  Trust him and He will go forth abide in your heart forever.

You may be a Christian, but you are depressed, you are weary, tired, sad, distressed, broken-hearted, wounded.  He still goes forth.  He still goes forth to heal the broken-hearted.  He still goes forth to preach deliverance to the captives.  He still goes forth to give sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to give rest to those who are weary and heavy-laden. Christ has not stopped going forth.  He may go forth to you this day.  You can experience his going forth now.  He is going forth to you as I preach the word to you and the truths of Christ are applied to your hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit.  He will go forth to you today in this sacrament of Holy Communion as he once again comes to us in the bread and wine to preserve our bodies and souls to everlasting life. 

            Our prayer at this Christmas season is that he would go forth in powerful ways.  You might receive many presents this year, but the greatest gift you could receive would be if Christ, the one whose goings forth have been from everlasting, came forth now, and revealed  His love and presence to you at this special time of year.

 

 

 

 

Amen.

 

For an audio version of the sermon being preached, as well as a text html version, go to our web site’s address at:

 St. Paul’s Reformed Episcopal Church

Preached on Lord’s Day Morning, December 21, 2008 by

The Rev. Dr. S. Randall Toms

At St. Paul’s Reformed Episcopal Church, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

 

www.stpaulsbr.org

gloryofthelambBut thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. (Micah 5:2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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