Saturday, December 25, 2010

Tidings of the King

Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it. (Isaiah 40:4-5)

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love. (Isaac Watts)

To me, one of the most appealing facets of the Nativity Day celebration lies in its emphasis on a more complete, robust AND SCRIPTURAL proclamation of the Gospel of Christ Jesus, the King. That is to say that at this time of year you will hear more about Him as the Anointed Ruler who came to put things right.

Evangelicals -- along with too many Reformed -- tend to think of the Gospel strictly in terms of personal salvation. This emphasis, in fact, serves as the very model for a 21st Century marketing program:

  1. You have a need -- sin & the prospect of eternal hell;
  2. Our product's benefits meet your need -- pardon & eternal life;
  3. We offer easy terms -- only believe.
Now, I do not want you to think that I in any way want to belittle or discount the grace of God in Christ with respect to personal salvation. It is vital, necessary and integral to God's total plan, and it should fill us with fearful wonder at the severity of God's gracious love.

However, when churches isolate that one aspect of God's pronouncement and treat it as though it comprised the whole of God's plan for the individual believer, the Church and the world, then -- to my mind, at least -- it takes on a self-centered aura. The Gospel becomes very much me-centered: MY sin; MY guilt; MY need; MY salvation, MY eternal life of bliss, MY . . . MY . . . MY.

This approach to the Gospel tends to minimize the truth that the chief end of all things (including our salvation) is God's own glory (Romans 8:28). The Scripture passages and the carols based on those passages that we hear at this time of year fall on my ears as a welcome relief and corrective to our often unbalanced preaching of the Gospel.

Yes, these Scriptures and songs acknowledge the world's fundamental brokenness, and our own broken condition as well. Nevertheless, the focus remains upon the King who has come to set things right: HIS government, HIS justice; HIS righteous character; HIS glorious reign; HIS Divine Nature . . . and much, much more about HIM.

If the ultimate objective of the Gospel of the Kingdom aims at the glory of God and of His Christ, then the chief expression of that glory manifests itself through a society subdued to the peaceful and prosperous reign of Christ (see Matthew 28:16-20 for the mission of the Church). A full-bodied proclamation of the Gospel includes Christ's credentials as God's Anointed King; the promise that the righteous character of His reign will issue in worldwide justice and peace; that the only terms He offers include acknowledgement of and absolute surrender to His Lordship; and the promise of forgiveness and eternal life to those who submit.

This is the apostolic message as we see it in the Book of Acts. It embraces the message of personal salvation, but places it in its broader, more appropriate context. It also makes Christ rather than the sinner the focal point of the Gospel message.

The first example of Apostolic preaching looks so little like today's Gospel preaching. Consider Peter's message as follows. I have put the parts about Christ in bold print and the references to personal salvation in caps.

Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words: For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day. But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come: AND IT SHALL COME TO PASS THAT WHOSOEVER SHALL CALL UPON THE NAME OF THE LORD SHALL BE SAVED. Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it. For David speaketh concerning him, I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved: Therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope: Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou shalt make me full of joy with thy countenance. Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day. Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption. This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear. For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, Until I make thy foes thy footstool. Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them,REPENT AND BE BAPTIZED EVERY ONE OF YOU IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST FOR THE REMISSION OF SINS, AND YE SHALL RECEIVE THE HOLY GHOST. FOR THE PROMISE IS UNTO YOU, AND TO YOUR CHILDREN, AND TO ALL THAT ARE AFAR OFF, EVEN AS MANY AS THE LORD OUR GOD SHALL CALL. (Acts 2:14-39)

Now note that the in the following ancient carol, the preponderance of the message focuses on Jesus. I count a Christ-centered Gospel as one of the best things about this season.

O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye, to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him, born the King of angels;


O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

True God of true God, Light from Light Eternal,
Lo, He shuns not the Virgin’s womb;
Son of the Father, begotten, not created;


Sing, choirs of angels, sing in exultation;
O sing, all ye citizens of heaven above!
Glory to God, all glory in the highest;


See how the shepherds, summoned to His cradle,
Leaving their flocks, draw nigh to gaze;
We too will thither bend our joyful footsteps;


Lo! star led chieftains, Magi, Christ adoring,
Offer Him incense, gold, and myrrh;
We to the Christ Child bring our hearts’ oblations.


Child, for us sinners poor and in the manger,
We would embrace Thee, with love and awe;
Who would not love Thee, loving us so dearly?


Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, born this happy morning;
Jesus, to Thee be glory given;
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.


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