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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

The Son Before The Manger

12/02 The Son Before the Manger; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20181202_son-before-the-manger.mp3

This is the first Sunday of Advent. Advent means coming, a season we celebrate the coming of Jesus. And we must ask, ‘Who is this Jesus? Who is he? What is he it all about? Where did he come from? Why did he come?

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It matters what we think about Jesus. It matters what God’s word says about who Jesus is. And as we have been learning in 2 Corinthians, looking at Jesus transforms us.

At Christmastime we focus on the baby in the manger. A baby is safe. A baby is not threatening. Most people are comfortable around babies. And that is a great opportunity this time of year. Some people may be more open to talking about the baby in the manger. Today I want to ask what the bible teaches about who Jesus is. Of course we can’t look at everything the bible says about Jesus today, because the Bible is all about Jesus! But today we are going to look back – back before the manger to help understand who Jesus really is.

John 3:16

We are going to start in what might seem like an unlikely place for a Christmas message. John 3:16 is probably the best known verse in the bible. Jesus said to Nicodemus

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

You may not have thought of this as a Christmas verse, but when you look at it in that light, you see how appropriate it is. The great love of God moved him to give the greatest Christmas gift of all, his only Son. God gave so that we might live. This verse points us back to the first Christmas, and it is about giving.

Only Begotten

But do you see what this verse tells us about Jesus? It says that he is the one and only Son of God. He is the only-begotten. The word is [μονογενής]; the only-born, the singular or sole offspring. Most of the modern translations just say ‘only’ or ‘one and only’, ‘unique’ and drop the ‘begotten’ because that can be confusing. When we hear that he was begotten or born, we assume that implies a beginning, an event, that he was born at a point in time and before that he didn’t exist. Before we are done today we will look at some verses that make that meaning impossible. There was never a time when he was not. He has always been with the Father, equal to the Father. So this word only-begotten must be getting at something else. It is telling us something about the relationship between God and Jesus. The relationship is not like a created being to its creator, where the creation is made of different stuff than the creator. Begotten tells us the relationship is more like a son and a father. They have the same nature, they share the same DNA if you will. We might say they were ‘cut from the same cloth,’ although neither was cut from anything else. They are the same stuff, the same essence. You see how a word like this is difficult to bring over into another language without losing something or being misleading?

God Gave and Sent

God gave his one and only Son. He was given by the Father to rescue us. He goes on in the next verses:

John 3:17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

God sent his only Son into the world. This tells us something about the Son before he was born in Bethlehem. This tells us that he was the only Son of God before he entered our world. He was sent by his Father. It does not say he was the only Son of God born into this world. He was sent, he was given. He was already the only Son. Before he was sent, before he was given, before he was born into this world, he was already the only Son of God.

The Only One Who Came Down

Just prior to John 3:16, in verse 13 he said:

John 3:13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.

Jesus claims to have come down from heaven. In fact he makes this claim exclusively. No one else descended from heaven. He – singular – came down.

Nicodemus had recognized Jesus as a ‘teacher come from God’ (3:3). But Jesus is pressing him to see more than that. John the Baptist was ‘sent from God’ (1:6), yet John makes it clear that he is ‘sent from God’ in a very different way than Jesus. When John is challenged with the fact that his disciples are leaving him to follow Jesus, he says:

John 3:30 He must increase, but I must decrease.” 31 He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all.

John contrasts himself with Jesus. Jesus comes from above, from heaven, and he is above all. John is of the earth and belongs to the earth. John was sent from God, but not at all in the way Jesus was sent. John is from the earth. God sent John with a mission. But nowhere does it say that John was sent from above, or came from heaven. In fact, back in John 1,

John 1:15 ( John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”)

Jesus was born about 6 months after his cousin John. He came after John, but he was, he existed before John.

Jesus exclusively claims to be the only one who has come down from heaven.

John 3:13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.

A Child Born, A Son Given

Jesus, the only Son of God, was given, sent into this world. This accords with the well known Christmas verse, Isaiah 9:6

Isaiah 9:6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

A child is born, and a son is given. We see two things here.

Luke 2:11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

At a point in history, in a cave-shelter for sheep, a baby was born to his virgin mother, wrapped in rags and placed in a stone feed trough. But Isaiah 9 points to a reality behind the manger. A son is given. God’s only Son from all eternity, was given, a Son whose name is Mighty God, Father of Eternity. The one who had no beginning was born a baby in Bethlehem. The eternal Son was given.

We see this also in the prophecy in Micah 5.

Micah 5:2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.

Jesus the King was born in Bethlehem, but that was not his beginning. His coming forth was from of old, from ancient days. He had no beginning. The eternal Son of God was born into this world in a small town in Judah.

In The Beginning He Was

If we turn back to the beginning of John’s gospel, we see this clearly.

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

John echoes Genesis in the way he opens his gospel. Matthew and Luke both give us genealogies of Jesus’ human parents. Mark simply introduces Jesus as ‘the Son of God’ and lets the his actions demonstrate the truth of that claim. This is John’s genealogy. Where Genesis opens ‘In the beginning’ and then looks forward to what God created, John opens ‘In the beginning’ and looks back to what already existed and who it was that created all things.

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God.

The Word existed in the beginning. And the word was personal. The word was with God, in relationship with God. The Word was a distinct personality from God, who could be with God. But this personal Word was not a second god, or a lesser being than God. The Word was God. The Word was the same stuff, the same essence, the same DNA as God. The Word was God. There were not two gods, but one God, who was there at the beginning. Two personalities, two centers of consciousness, the Father and Son, together with one another in relationship, but one Divine Being, one God.

Verse 9 says:

John 1:9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.

The Word, here called the true light, who had always existed in relationship with his Father, was coming into the world. He made the world. He was in the world already, as God everywhere present. But at a point in time he came, in a new way, he entered in a tangible, touchable, visible, knowable form. He came to his own people, as one of them..

Verse 14 tells us how.

John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

The eternal Word who was with God and who was himself God came into the world by becoming flesh. Remaining what he was, he became what he was not. Jesus reveals the glory of God. Jesus puts the invisible nature and character of God on display in an observable, knowable form.

This is what Christmas is all about; God making himself known, knowable, entering into our mess, becoming one of us. Eternal God taking on our nature, our flesh. God, remaining God, now become human. God so loved that he gave his only Son. The Son given, the child born. This is who Jesus is.

What Does It Matter?

But what does it matter? Why is it important to know who Jesus is, that he was the eternal Son of God, God the Son before he was born a human baby and placed in a manger? What difference does it make?

It makes all the difference in the world! I’ll give you three main reasons: relationship, rescue and worship.

First relationship. This tells us that God is a relational being. In his very nature, in his essence, at the core of his being, he is relational. God is love. The Father, Son and Spirit in eternal unbroken fellowship, loving each other, valuing each other, prizing one another, communicating with one another. God in his essence is relational, and he invites us into relationship with him. In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself (2Cor.5:19).

And this leads in to the second reason it is so essential to understand who Jesus is. He came to rescue. Reconciliation means that the relationship was broken. And we broke it. ‘In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.’ We have sinned, trespassed against a good, loving, holy, just God. The wages of sin is death. God must punish sin. Justice must be done to the guilty party. Humankind sinned against God, and humankind must be punished. The Son becoming human allowed him to suffer as a human in the place of humankind. God transferred our guilt to him, and poured out his wrath on him, so that we could be cleared, forgiven of all sin. That is the gospel, the good news, that is why Jesus came, that is why the Son was given. So that whoever believes, trusts, depends on him will not perish but have eternal life. God did not send his Son to condemn the world (although it would have been just for him to do so). God sent his only Son into the world in order that the world might be saved through him.

What about you? Are you? Are you trusting in him, depending on his finished work for you? Do you acknowledge that you are deserving of just condemnation, and embracing Jesus as your substitute, who paid your price in full? It says ‘whoever believes!’ Are you?

And this leads naturally into worship. There is something seriously wrong if we see Jesus for who he is, if we see the Son before the manger, if we see that the Father sent his only Son, if we see what he came to do, and our hearts do not just leap into songs of worship and adoration. We were made to worship, We have been redeemed to worship. He alone is worthy of our worship. Look. Look. Look to Jesus, and allow the love of God made tangible by sending his only Son to so overwhelm you that your heart spontaneously spills over in praise to him.

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Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

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December 3, 2018 Posted by | occasional, podcast, Theology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Poverty and Grace of Christ; 2 Corinthians 8:9

12/04 The Poverty and Grace of Christ; 2 Cor.8:9 ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20161204_poverty-grace-christ.mp3

Last week we looked at a great Christmas/Thanksgiving verse at the end of 2 Corinthians 9.

2 Corinthians 9:15 Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!

This week I want to turn back a chapter to 2 Corinthians 8, where we find another wonderful Christmas text.

2 Corinthians 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

Remember, the context of 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 is Paul reminding and encouraging the Corinthians to give generously to the collection for the poor saints that he is taking to Jerusalem. He mentioned this in his first letter to this church (1 Cor.16:1-4) and he also mentions it in Romans 15:25-28, writing from Corinth in AD 57. Here in 2 Corinthians he takes two chapters to exhort the Corinthians toward generosity to their Jewish brothers and sisters who are in need. Paul begins this section in chapter 8 by encouraging them with the example of the churches in Macedonia.

God’s Grace Given

2 Corinthians 8:1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— 5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.

Paul uses the word ‘grace’ to describe this gift. He uses the word ‘grace’ 18 times in 2 Corinthians. 10 of those times are concentrated in these two chapters on giving. Paul sees generosity and giving as an act of grace, rooted in the grace of God toward us and blossoming into a full display of grace that extends out from us who have experienced God’s grace in acts of grace toward others. Grace, remember, by definition is an undeserved kindness, a gift, unmerited, unearned, freely given. He describes what happened in Macedonia as ‘the grace of God that has been given among the churches.’ The generosity of the believers in the region of Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea Paul recognizes as the grace of God. The fact that they gave, and the way that they gave, was evidence that demonstrated that they were recipients of God’s grace. Later in this chapter Paul refers to their giving to this special project as ‘this act of grace.’ But here, he is talking about God’s grace extended undeservedly to the Macedonian churches that resulted in their wealth of generosity. Remember, we love because he first loved us. We give because to us God has abundantly given. The Macedonians gave because they were first recipients of God’s abundant grace.

Grace Under Pressure

First Paul describes their circumstances. He says they were ‘in a severe test of affliction.’ They were undergoing persecution. They were in the middle of a trial. On Paul’s first visit to Macedonia (Acts 16-17), he and Silas were imprisoned in Philippi and then asked to leave. In Thessalonica, the jealous Jews incited a mob and set the city in an uproar. Not finding Paul, they dragged Jason and some other local believers before the city authorities, accusing them of treason against Caesar, and proclaiming another king, Jesus. Paul and Silas were sent off by night to Berea, but the Jews from Thessalonica followed them there and agitated and stirred up the crowds, so Paul was sent off to Athens in Achaia. Although what kind of persecution they were now suffering is not specified, it is described as ‘a severe test of affliction.’ Verse 2 goes on to describe their situation as ‘their extreme poverty.’ We are told in Acts that ‘when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go’ (Acts 17:9). Whatever their specific circumstances, they were ‘in a severe test of affliction’ and they were in the depths of poverty.

Unquenchable Joy

But their circumstances did not define their attitudes or their actions. Do you let your circumstances determine how you respond? How you act? Your attitude? Are your emotions controlled by how others treat you? The Macedonians, in the middle of severe affliction, had a superabundance of joy. This is not natural; this is supernatural joy, joy that is not dampened by any outside influence. This is the joy Jesus promised to bring to his followers.

John 16:22 So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.

Begging for the Grace of Giving

The Macedonians had unquenchable joy in Jesus. And under severe pressure their joy combined with their extreme poverty like vinegar and baking soda to overflow in a wealth of generosity. Do you want that kind of joy? Would you like that kind of single purposed sincerity and bountiful liberality to come out when you are under pressure? When you are pressed and stretched? Verse 3 tells us that

2 Corinthians 8:3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—

They gave more than they could afford. They gave voluntarily. Willingly. Their abundance of joy had to find an outlet; it had to express itself. They begged for the privilege of giving. Literally, ‘after much urgent request they begged us the grace and the fellowship of the service to the saints’. They considered the privilege of giving beyond their means an undeserved favor from God. It was grace, and it was fellowship. Partnering with God in his care for his own, and partnering with the suffering saints in Jerusalem, sharing in their sorrows and spreading joy. Paul says:

2 Corinthians 8:5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.

This generosity from suffering saints was beyond what they had hoped. They didn’t only give of their finances. They gave of themselves. They didn’t just write a check. They were personally invested. Their gave themselves first to the Lord. They recognized that they had been bought with a price. They understood that they belonged to Jesus. And so they delightfully offfered their very selves to God and to the service of the saints. What an example from the Macedonian churches!

2 Corinthians 8:6 Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. 7 But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you— see that you excel in this act of grace also. 8 I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.

Paul now encourages the church in Corinth also to abound in this grace. He is careful to make it clear that this gift is voluntary. There is no obligation. This is not a command. It is an invitation; an opportunity. As the Macedonians begged to be involved, you also abound in this act of grace. And then he holds up Jesus as the reason.

The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ

2 Corinthians 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

You know. This is not something new. You already know about the grace of our Lord Jesus. Paul reminds us of the good news we already know. He turns our attention back once more to Jesus. He is encouraging an act of free grace toward those who desperately need the help but didn’t earn it or do anything to deserve it. He reminds us that we can only give like that because we have already been on the receiving end of that kind of gift. Jesus freely extended his favor to those who did nothing to earn it, but desperately need it. Before you can ever hope to extend grace to others, you must first experience the grace that comes from Jesus.

Riches to Poverty for You

This is what that grace looks like. ‘that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor.’ What does it mean that Jesus was rich? Jesus prayed to his Father in John 17

John 17:4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

Jesus had glory in the presence of his Father before the world existed. He was eager to return to that glory. Jesus said in John 6:

John 6:38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.

Jesus came down from heaven. He left his glory to come down and do the will of his Father. He goes on to say:

John 6:46 not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father.

Jesus claims to be the only one who is from God, the only one who has seen the Father. In John 8 he sets himself apart as the only one who is from above, who is not from this world.

John 8:23 He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.

This is Christmas. Jesus left his glory and came down to this earth. John began his gospel this way:

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

The Word was glorious in the presence of his Father. He is distinct from his Father, in relationship with his Father, and equal to his Father. He possesses all the characteristics of his Father. He is the Creator of all that is. He was rich.

John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

He became poor. He became flesh. He became what he was not. He became one of us. As the only Son from the Father he pitched his tent among us. He became poor. This is grace!

Why? Although he was rich, yet he became poor. Why? It was for your sake. For your benefit. For you!

Philippians 2 spells this out.

Philippians 2:3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Jesus, being rich, existing eternally in the form of God, equal with his Father, became poor. He emptied himself by taking the form of a servant. He was born in the likeness of men, in human form. Being rich, he became poor. He humbled himself even to death, even death on a cross. Because Christmas is really all about Good Friday. Jesus became poor for your sake. He became human for your sake, so as a human he could take your place on the cross.

Bringing You Riches by His Poverty

But it doesn’t stop there!

2 Corinthians 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

By his poverty you become rich. This is undeserved grace! How do we become rich by his poverty? The riches may not be what we would think. Jesus, addressing the church in Laodicea in Revelation 3 says:

Revelation 3:15 [to Laodicea] “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.

Their opinion of themselves was that they were rich and in need of nothing, but God’s perspective says that they were wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. But to the church in Smyrna he says:

Revelation 2:9 [to Smyrna] “‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) …

Like the churches in Macedonia, you may be in desperate poverty and undergoing persecution, but you are abundantly rich in joy. True riches come from Jesus.

Ephesians 1 says:

Ephesians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,

If we are in Christ, we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing. Every spiritual blessing! Paul prays:

Ephesians 1:17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,

Our eyes must be opened to know the riches of his glorious inheritance! The benefits purchased for us by Christ are immeasurably great. Ephesians 2 says:

Ephesians 2:4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

Grace immeasurable! Grace rich and free. Resurrecting life transforming grace! Peter says:

1 Peter 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials,

New birth. Born into an inheritance. All the riches of Christ belong to us.

2 Corinthians 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

Christmas is about grace. The grace of the Lord Jesus. Christmas is about Jesus, who was rich in glory in the presence of his Father, who emptied himself by taking human form; who became poor, humbled even to the point of being executed as a criminal. He did this for me! Christmas is about the greatest gift. God the Son was born in Bethlehem so that he could be crucified outside Jerusalem so that I could experience unshakeable joy in the riches of his grace.

2 Corinthians 9:15 Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

December 5, 2016 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment