The Heidelberg Catechism on the Ascension

This coming Lord’s Day, we will be considering Luke 24:50-53 in the preaching of God’s Word. Most weeks, as we profess the Apostles’ Creed in worship, we declare that “He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.” The Ascension is a cardinal Christian doctrine, but we often overlook its significance for our daily life as believers. The language of the Heidelberg Catechism is helpful in understanding the comfort this doctrine brings to our lives and to our deaths. For your edification, consider these words below.

46. How dost thou understand the words: He ascended into Heaven? 
That Christ, in sight of His disciples, was taken up from the earth into heaven; and in our behalf there continues, until He shall come again to judge the living and the dead.

47. Is not then Christ with us even unto the end of the world, as He has promised? 
Christ is true Man and true God: according to His human nature, He is now not on earth; but according to His Godhead, majesty, grace, and Spirit, He is at no time absent from us.

49. What benefit do we receive from Christ’s ascension into heaven? 
First, that He is our Advocate in the presence of His Father in heaven. Secondly, that we have our flesh in heaven, as a sure pledge, that He, as the Head, will also take us, His members, up to Himself. Thirdly, that He sends us His Spirit, as an earnest, by whose power we seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God, and not things on the earth.

The New Normal

Every crisis leaves its marks.  Some marks appear as scars, testifying to pain, but also endurance.   While other marks take the shape of new or renewed resolve to do things differently.   While none of us welcomes a crisis, crises move us forward in many ways — technologically, relationally, and spiritually.   The early Church Father, Augustine, once noted that theology is developed most clearly in response to heresy than in the absence of it.  Paul points out the same thing in 1 Corinthians 11:18-19

For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.

What marks will your crisis leave?  Only scars?  Or with the scars, new resolve – a new normal.   The controversial mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, once quipped, “Never let a crisis go to waste.”  He was paraphrasing from Saul Alinsky, who recycled his own ideas on political activism from the likes of Marx and Machiavelli.   Yet, despite Alinsky’s dangerous perspectives, the truth of his sentiment regarding a crisis is important.  How will we respond?  Will the crisis only wound?  Or will it strengthen as well?  John Calvin taught that our spiritual response to crisis is not to ask “why” but “what for?”  

The last two months have been a crisis of gargantuan proportions.  No matter what you believe about the Coronavirus as a pandemic, a plague, a judgement of God, an act of Chinese bioterrorism, or a vast left-wing conspiracy – our response to COVID-19 has left a mark.  From cabin fever, to financial ruin, to grief of loss, the impact has been far-reaching.  We are all eager to reopen the world and get back to normal.  But can we really go back?  We will have some scars, but we will also take away some needful things from this crisis –new things we need to keep and lost things we need to recover.

Perhaps the old normal wasn’t so great after all.  Perhaps it is true that “it is not good for man to be alone.”  Maybe the old normal mediated by technology and not personal relationships was not the panacea it promised.  Being confined to virtual relationships for the last two months has left us wanting something more.  And while, it has been a good thing for the church to come to grips with new means of gathering and engaging the world, our old apathy for worship and the spread of the gospel needs a “new normal.”    But this is not the first time followers of Jesus Christ have been confronted with the challenges of a “new normal.”

As we encounter the Lord’s disciples at the end of the Gospel of Luke, we find them facing a radically new normal.  Jesus, their master and teacher, has finished His redemptive work.   As He is preparing to return to the Father, He is preparing them to pick up where He left off.  Following His resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciples during forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God, opening their minds to understand the Scriptures and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

As Jesus meets the disciples on the first Easter night, he comforts their fears, calls them to take their part in the story of redemption, and promises them His ongoing presence in a radically new and powerful way.   The end of the gospel is only the end of the beginning.  As Luke continues the story in Acts, he writes 

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 

Acts 1:1-2

This is the new normal.   It remains the new normal for the Church today.  Just as Jesus comforted the fears of his disciples, called them to step up and step out, and promises His presence in a radically new and powerful way, so He does to us.  These things were written for our instruction and encouragement.   Their new normal is the best prescription for our own new normal – looking to Christ for comfort, following Christ’s call, and relying on Christ’s presence through the Holy Spirit.  

How will you move forward?  What will you abandon and what will you recover?  What marks will the crisis leave?  Only scars?  Or with the scars, new resolve – a new normal.   Join us on Facebook Live at 10:30 am this Lord’s Day, April 26, as we examine the “End of the Beginning” from Luke 24 and consider the new normal for followers of Jesus Christ. 

In Plain Sight

Camouflage is often more effective than concealment.   We see this vividly in an animal’s use of camouflage to avoid predators.  Often, the things that are the hardest to see are the things right in front of us.  Two common expressions, “missing the forest for the trees” and “hiding in plain sight,” express this truth.  Sometimes the most obvious things are the most obscure.

When we think of spy thrillers, we think of master’s of disguise and vast concealment conspiracies.  But the legacy of Cold War espionage was one of people and places hidden in plain sight.   A recent article in the online journal, The Intercept, details operations in one of the most iconic spy centers in the US, hidden in plain sight.

For many New Yorkers, 33 Thomas Street — known as the “Long Lines Building” — has been a source of mystery for years. It has been labeled one of the city’s weirdest and most iconic skyscrapers, but little information has ever been published about its purpose.

Construction began in 1969, and by 1974, the skyscraper was completed. Today, it can be found in the heart of lower Manhattan at 33 Thomas Street, a vast gray tower of concrete and granite that soars 550 feet into the New York skyline. The brutalist structure, still used by AT&T and, according to the New York Department of Finance, owned by the company, is like no other in the vicinity. Unlike the many neighboring residential and office buildings, it is impossible to get a glimpse inside 33 Thomas Street. True to the designers’ original plans, there are no windows and the building is not illuminated. At night it becomes a giant shadow, blending into the darkness, its large square vents emitting a distinct, dull hum that is frequently drowned out by the sound of passing traffic and wailing sirens.

It is not uncommon to keep the public in the dark about a site containing vital telecommunications equipment. But 33 Thomas Street is different: An investigation by The Intercept indicates that the skyscraper is more than a mere nerve center for long-distance phone calls. It also appears to be one of the most important National Security Agency surveillance sites on U.S. soil — a covert monitoring hub that is used to tap into phone calls, faxes, and internet data.

Hidden in plain sight, 33 Thomas St. is perhaps one of the most notorious venues for international and domestic surveillance.   But it was not just places, but also people hiding in plain sight to evade detection as spies.   In his book, Talking to Strangers, author Malcolm Gladwell recounts several high-profile Cuban spies embedded in the CIA who evaded detection not through brilliant concealment, but by relying on our human inability to discern a liar.   They were hiding in plain sight.

So, perhaps it is not surprising that in Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances, His most devoted friends and followers often did not recognize him.  Men and women who had been with him continually for over three years inexplicably failed to recognize Him standing right in front of them.   To be sure, there was a quality to the resurrection body that was imperishable, undefiled and unfading.  Yet, the gospel accounts make it clear that his appearance and his mannerisms were recognizable.   Time and time again Jesus’ most intimate friends respond to his appearance with fear, joy, doubt, faith, uncertainty and downright skepticism.

Mary Magdalene mistakes him for the gardener.   None of the disciples [on the shore of the lake] dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.   The disciples in the Upper Room thought He was a ghost, until he ate some of their food.   On the mountain in Galilee, when the Eleven drew close, they worshipped Him, but “some doubted.”   And then there is the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus.   These men spent hours with Jesus and only recognize Him as He blessed and broke the bread at their supper table.   If these men, who followed Jesus, ate with Jesus, saw Him day in and day out for three years, struggled to see Him, how will we?

We speak of knowing Jesus, loving Him, and having a personal relationship with Him — expressions which must seem like communal delirium to unbelievers.  And though many professing believers never experience Christ’s real presence, they may go along with the narrative, but never see Him.  What makes the difference?   How is it possible to see Jesus?   In a great passage on our “living hope” in the resurrected Jesus, the Apostle Peters writes.

“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”  1 Peter 1:8-9

The story of Jesus on the Emmaus road is remarkable.  Included only in the Gospel of Luke, it is a recognition story, instructing and encouraging us in the hope of seeing the Risen Christ.   Two disciples have Jesus right in front of them, yet they do not recognize Him for who He is.  What makes the difference?   What brings them to recognition?   They made two journeys that day on the road to Emmaus.  The first was journey of unbelief, of disappointment, of “not seeing.”  While the second was a journey made in faith, joy and hope.  

What about you?  What journey are you on?  Has your spiritual journey been one of disappointment and “not seeing?”  Or have you seen the Risen Christ and had your journey transformed into one of joy?  Join us on Facebook Live at 10:30 am this Lord’s Day, April 19, as we examine Luke 24 and consider our how we too can see the Risen Christ. 

Not Here

The topography of grief is vast and varied.   Your grief may bear a resemblance to the grief of others, but it is only a resemblance.  Each grief is uniquely its owners.  It is intense and personal, never what you think it will be.   It takes turns you did not expect.  When it seems gone, it reemerges without warning.   Sights, sounds, and smells open its locked doors.  And like Frodo Baggins’ ancient wound, grief is inflamed by days of remembrance.  As Gandalf sagely observed, “Alas [Frodo]! there are some wounds that cannot be wholly cured.”  

We reach for the phone.  Or we enter a room with the forgetfulness that he is “not here.”    We see a beautiful vista or recall a shared moment and ache to share it.   But she is “not here.”   The one who has always been there is “not here.”   Death is surreal.  We think we know how we will respond, but it is nothing like the caricatured response of our stories.  

I remember well the wee hours of March 8, 1984.   The phone rang.  It was the hospital.  Without explanation, we were told to come.   We drove in silence.  What was happening?  At 18, I was not sure what was happening.   I had seen her just the day before.  She had had a good day.  She was alert and we talked.  She told me how much she loved me and how proud she was of me.  She seemed so much — better.   Why had they called so early to come?  

We entered silently into her silent room.  Everything was silent.  Nurses were gathered, but no one spoke.  Gone were the IVs, the oxygen.  There was no humming of medical machinery.   There was a radiant peace on her face.   She looked so peaceful.  Gone were the grimaces of pain.  Gone was the struggle to breathe.  I knew, but I did not know, what was happening.  My mind raced.  Was she better?  Had something remarkable happened?  Yet, she was “not here.”  The hole that had just opened in the fabric of my life seemed so vast as if it would swallow me.   She was gone.  She was not here.

Our reaction to grief is never what we anticipate.   But imagine for a moment those women who went to the tomb so early on the First Day of the Week.   They had stayed at the foot of the cross until the bitterest of bitter ends.   Their beloved teacher, master and friend, their Lord, was “not here.”   In one last act of love and devotion, they go in the wee hours, in the darkness before dawn to the tomb to care for the body of the one who had cared for them.   

Their minds turned to questions.  How would they roll away the stone?  But as they drew near, they were met with an unexpected scene.   Imagine how their minds raced.  Luke says they were “perplexed.” The stone was not just rolled away, but cast aside.  The tomb was empty.  He was gone – not just in the way of grief – but really gone!   Who would do such a thing?  Who would intrude on their grief like this?  Holy Messengers appear with a shocking explanation and mild rebuke.  

“Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”

He is not here?  What does this mean?  How can this be?  His death had changed everything in their lives, but now He is “not here.”  From our vantage point, we may be surprised at the conflicted responses of the women and the disciples to the resurrection of Jesus.  The women flee from the tomb with fear and joy.  The disciples receive the reports of the women with skepticism, then meet to the risen Christ, himself, with worship but doubt.   As one commenter wryly noted, “the apostles were not men poised on the brink of belief… they were utterly skeptical.”   How could they have been so blind?  We might be tempted to say, “how foolish [they were] and slow to believe.”

But what about you?  What is your response to the Resurrection?  For the men and women who encountered and empty tomb and a Risen Christ, the Resurrection changed everything.   Has it changed everything for you?  Has it given hope in grief?  Joy in sorrow?  Faith in fear?  Have you met the Risen Christ, the Living One, who has defeated the last enemy, Death, and holds the keys to death and the grave?   

Is your life defined by the “not here” of death, or the “not here” of the Resurrection?  For believers the question is not, ‘is there evidence for you to believe the Resurrection,’ but ‘is there evidence of your belief in the Resurrection?’  This testimony is the only evidence for the Resurrection most will consider. Join us on Facebook Live at 10:30 am this Lord’s Day, April 12, as we examine Luke 24 and consider our responses to the Resurrection of Jesus. 

Making Arrangements

Gift giving at our house was never a time for surprises.   Our gifts were so predictable we would could have dispensed with wrapping paper altogether.   My parents assured me they wanted the same things at every gifting opportunity.  For Christmas, my mother received chocolate-covered cherries and a flip calendar refill and my father a new can of Borkum-Riff.   At Father’s Day, my sisters and I would collaborate on new white dress shirt.   After the presentation of home-made cards and crafts, we would present our gift.  He would shake it and feel of it, then carefully, and with great suspense, open the package revealing to no one’s surprise a white Van Heusen dress shirt.  

Though it was Sunday, my father would never wear his new shirt on the day it was received.  We would implore him to, as a matter of ritual.   But he was unmoved.  He would lovingly place the unopened shirt in a special draw in his closet and declare, “I will save that one for my funeral.”   Why he felt the need to say this, I never knew.   He would, of course, eventually wear the shirt.  But we never noticed exactly when.  As far as we knew, he had indeed saved it for his funeral.   But, if so, that would have been his only funeral plan.    

My father was not a procrastinator.  He was a planner.  He loved to plan and organize.  Long after my sisters and I moved out, he would mail us detailed agendas of any road trip he might take.  He had files of files and lists of lists.   He was always a man with a plan.  Except, that is, when it came to funeral planning.  He had absolutely no interest in thinking about those things.   Any suggestion regarding funeral planning was met with swift rebuttal and redirection.

But as a pastor I have noticed how helpful advanced funeral planning is for a grieving family.  From decisions about burial places and furnishings, to the logistics of services, down to the music and readings – all these things give you the opportunity to make sure what matters most is shared with those who matter most as they grieve.   The thoughts shared at a funeral set the trajectory of grief and establish hope beyond the grave – hope that this is not the end, but only the end of the beginning, hope that there is more to come.

At first glance, it seems that Jesus’ burial arrangements were anything but planned.  The only clear preparation the gospels refer to is the anointing of Jesus at Bethany by Mary, the sister of Lazarus.  Victims of crucifixion could be claimed by their family for burial, but if not, they were thrown unceremoniously into unmarked graves.   The circumstances of Jesus death made it virtually impossible for his family to claim his body.  But as Good Friday ebbs away toward the Sabbath, events unfold which reveal that Jesus’ Heavenly Father had providentially made remarkable plans for his funeral, plans foretold hundreds of years before by the prophet Isaiah, who wrote, “And they made his grave … with a rich man in his death.” (Isaiah 53:9).

Jesus burial established a remarkable trajectory of hope for all who believe in him.  Had Jesus been tossed into a Roman burial pit, many clear and compelling proofs of the resurrection would not have been possible.  But in God’s advanced funeral planning for His Only Begotten Son, he is buried in a prominent place, in a grave secure from unseen access, in a new, unused tomb, wrapped in graveclothes that would be abandoned, and sealed and guarded tenaciously by his enemies.   God works through the courage of Joseph of Arimathea and the cowardice of the religious leaders to assure us that Christ is risen indeed.  Every detail of Jesus’ burial furnishes forensic proof of the resurrection and assures us of  our own redemption. 

Join us on Facebook Live at 10:30 am this Lord’s Day, April 5, as we examine Luke 23:50-56 and consider amazing importance of the death and burial of the Lord Jesus.  For updates on our current plans for worship while practicing social distancing go to our post, COVID 19 Update.

Behold Your King

How many times have you misjudged someone, thinking they were weak, incapable, or a push-over? Then, unexpectedly, they act out of unforeseen strength to save the day and make a mockery of your precipitous assessment.   King George VI of England was such a man.   Encumbered with a speech impediment, a man of great natural reserve and deference, he was considered by English society to be a royal embarrassment.  He had none of the eloquence, confidence or charm of his elder brother and heir to the throne, Edward VIII.  

But for all of the appearance of strength, Edward had none.  His great love was not a love of duty or country, but a love of self.   His sordid affair with Wallace Simpson led him to abdicate the throne on the eve of Great Britain’s entry into World War II.    In his stead, the timid and unpromising, George VI ascended to the throne.   George hardly looked the part of King. But for all his apparent weakness and inability, he had a strength none guessed.  His love of country and of duty and his strength of conviction guided Britain through its “finest hour.”  The remarkable story of George’s reign is told in the 2010 movie, “The King’s Speech.”

Outward appearances never define a king.  Samuel learned this when he went to the house of Jesse to anoint a successor to King Saul.   Saul had possessed a kingly bearing.  A head taller than every other man in Israel, Saul had looked like a King.  So Samuel looked for such a man among Jesse’s sons.  But the Lord warned Samuel,

“Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him.  For the Lord sees not as a man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

1 Samuel 16:7

Samuel’s search led him to David, the smallest and least promising of Jesse’s sons, but the one who was a man after God’s own heart. (Acts 13:22)  Outward appearances never define a King.  

Luke’s account of the crucifixion is remarkable in many ways.  It gives scarcely any details about the crucifixion itself, but focuses attention on the reactions of those Jesus encountered as He traveled the way of suffering.   He was met with pity, mockery and bitter anger, but also remarkable and unexpected faith.   At every turn Luke declares the Kingship of Jesus.   Yet, Jesus hardly looks like a King.  To the eye he appears to be victim, not victor.  Luke uses the word ‘spectacle’ to describe the scene.   Those who looked upon this spectacle without faith saw Jesus as anything but a King.   But through faith others saw the King entering His kingdom.   Outward appearances never define a King. 

The “Daughters of Jerusalem” looked at outward appearances. They were warned by Jesus not to weep for Him, but for themselves.   They were looking at the cross and the Christ all wrong.   They did not understand what was unfolding before them.  They saw a victim suffering injustice, rather than a King bearing justice. How do you look at the events of Good Friday?  What is your response to the cross?  Does it evoke pity, mockery, or despair?  Or does it call you to repentance, faith, and hope?

Join us on Facebook Live at 10:30 am this Lord’s Day, March 29, as we examine Luke 23:26-49 and consider the Kingship of Christ, powerfully declared, brazenly rejected and savingly believed.  For more information about how we are gathering for corporate worship amidst calls for “social distancing” go to our post, How to Survive the Pandemic.

On Trial

Southerners are lousy at being quarantined.  Untrained in this discipline by a lack of inclement winter weather, we tear through our stock of quarantine supplies by noon on day one.  We love to prep for disaster, but have little patience to live within the parameters of our preparations.   We cancel everything in order to stay home, then stand all day with our noses pressed to the glass, itching to get out to see “what’s going on.”    Like school children after the first two weeks of summer vacation, we become quickly bored.

As long as our internet does not go out and take with it our Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, we may actually make it.   Surrounded by our hoarded TP, we outwait the lengthy COVID 19 incubation period by binge-watching.   For my wife and I, our nightly habit is British crime drama.  We especially like the adaptations of Ann Cleeves’ crime novels.   Her stories are complex.   The obvious culprits are never the perpetrators.   Only slowly does the truth come into focus as the “DCI” sifts through seemingly endless strands of contradictory evidence.   Cleeves’ stories give an appreciation for the complexity of criminal investigation, warning of the dangers of precipitous judgment.   To get to the truth, we cannot take a cursory look.

Perhaps we love fictional crime drama because it satisfies our need to see justice done, without complicating it with the complexities of our own sin.   In sixty minutes, confusion gives way to clarity and good triumphs over evil no matter what means it uses to get there.   But our lives are not so tidy.  In our real story, we are the fugitives who face a justice none of us can bear.   Yet the scales of God’s justice do not weigh the arguments for and against our guilt, but rather God’s justice and His mercy.

It is remarkable how much legal imagery the Bible uses to picture our condition.  The Old Testament anticipates a redeemer who will set prisoners free.  In the New Testament, both Jesus and the Holy Spirit are pictured as advocates, God the Father is often likened to a judge, redemption depends upon a declaration of judicial righteousness and our condemnation is set aside in Christ.  

History’s greatest courtroom drama is recorded in the Bible in Luke 22 and 23.  Following an irregular grand jury indictment, Jesus is brought before the criminal court on charges trumped up religious rivals.  In Pontius Pilate’s courtroom we see the greatest miscarriage of justice in human history.  Everyone is guilty – the judge, the prosecutors, the jury – everyone that is except the one on trial.  He alone is innocent.  Evidence is ignored and the judge is captive public opinion and his own corrupt history.  Despite his declarations of Jesus’ innocence, Pontius Pilate condemns him to death and compounds injustice by releasing a man who is truly guilty of all the charges leveled against Jesus.

As spectators, we recoil at this apparent travesty of justice.  But we must look more deeply.   No cursory examination of Jesus’ trial reveals the extent of the guilty.   It is easy to spot the guilt of the Sanhedrin, of the crowds, of Judas, of Pilate, and of Barabbas.  But the investigation must go deeper.  For we are not just spectators of this drama.  Jesus is not a hapless victim of human injustice, but a willing sacrifice to divine justice – justice that is rightly ours to bear.   It is not just Barabbas’ cross that Jesus bore, but ours.   God is just – His justice cannot ignore our crimes or allow them to go unpunished – but in His mercy He is the justifier of those who have faith in Christ.  Because of this we can have peace with God and with one another.  This my friend is good news.

Join us on Facebook Live at 10:30 am this Lord’s Day, March 22, as we examine Luke 22 and 23 and consider the greatest courtroom drama in history as it unfolds Christ’s innocence and condemnation for our guilt and pardon.  For more information about how we are gathering for corporate worship amidst calls for “social distancing” go to our post, How to Survive the Pandemic.

Real

The great irony of children’s literature is that the simplest stories often convey the most complex ideas.  Without a doubt, the world’s most compelling philosophy is found, not on the professor’s bookshelf, but in the children’s section of the local library.   As every adult quickly recognizes, Dr. Seuss is about more than mind-boggling rhythm and rhyme and Richard Scarry’s Busytown has its finger on the pulse of the human condition.   Children’s books are not afraid to tackle existential angst.   In The Velveteen Rabbit, nursery room toys ponder what it means to be “real.”

“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

In a world where masks are common and authenticity is rare, the wisdom of the Skin Horse is powerful.  We often view our heroes and role models through idealized caricature.  Yet, as they take on a mythic quality, they become more irrelevant and less real.   The mythic figure may influence, but the one who is real makes us who we are.

This is especially true when it comes to the Bible.  There is a subtle temptation to mythologize its stories, particularly the stories of Jesus.   When we consider the stories of Jesus’ nativity only at the holidays, it is easy to conceive of Jesus as just another character in a seasonal story or as an ideal, allegorical man.  But just as the Bible contends that Jesus was fully God, it contends that he was fully man – a real man, flesh and blood, body and soul.   Real in every sense of the word.   He passed through every experience and temptation of human life, except sin.  That fact that He is real makes us who we are.  The author of Hebrews writes.

Therefore, he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.  Hebrews 2:16-17

The Heidelberg Catechism, a time-tested set of questions and answers drawn from Scripture to teach the basics of the Christian faith,  goes even further, pointing beyond the fact or Jesus’ humanity to the necessity of it.

Q16. Why must [Our Redeemer] be a true and sinless man?
Because the justice of God requires, that the same human nature which has sinned should make satisfaction for sin; but no man, being himself a sinner, could satisfy for others

Join us this Sunday, December 1 as we examine Hebrews 2:10-18 and consider the necessity of Jesus being a real man. We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:45 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.   We look forward to seeing you

Looking for Something More

My father delighted in drama.  He was an avid story-teller who knew how to create suspense.   He masterfully drew listeners to the precipice of a story’s climax.  He was often called upon to speak publicly, especially at celebratory or ceremonial occasions.  With carefully chosen words, he lent gravity and significance to every proceeding, no matter how small or common. The natural drama that surrounds the holiday season especially primed my father’s pump.

Christmas Eve brought convergence to my father’s love of suspense.  Before bed, we set out chocolate pie for Santa.   Then Daddy would pull out his giant reel-to-reel recorder and conduct interviews with my sisters and me. With a news reporter’s demeanor, he would conduct his man-on-the-street interview, probing our expectations for the day ahead.  As we prepared for bed, he scanned across oceans of static on his transistor radio for reports from NORAD about an unidentified inbound object over the Bering Sea.  We were never sure which was imminent – Santa Claus or nuclear holocaust?   Every detail of the evening was calculated to create suspense by asking the same question.  “When we wake in the morning, if we wake, will we encounter wonder or disappointment?”

My father knew this was never a settled question for me.  He knew that sometime in the night, I would wake and slip, as noiselessly as an eight year-old can, into the living room where all things Christmas were contained. He knew I would investigate the pie plate then the wing-back chair which was the designated landing spot for the evidence of my goodness in the preceding year.  The pie plate looked like a crime scene and in the chair were many good things, but not every good thing.  Something was always missing.   The big item on my list – that something more — was never there.   Even as he slept, my father created suspense.

In the morning, after Santa’s gifts were examined and family gifts were exchanged, just as my mother was getting up to begin lunch preparations, my father would notice something out of place, stuck in an unused corner or fallen behind some furniture.  With great fanfare and musings of “what is this” and “where did that come from,” he produced ‘something more.’

Christmas is often a season which leaves us looking for something more.  Our expectations are high, but our celebrations rarely deliver everything we seek.  And even when we take to heart Linus’ words to Charlie Brown that Christmas is about the birth of a Savior, we are left wondering what type of Savior He is.  Is He a mere teacher, who increased the demands of the law from mere outward conformity, to the perfect obedience of heart, mind, soul and strength?  Is He a mere example, come to demonstrate to us how to love and sacrifice for one another?  Is He a revolutionary who incites us to throw off convention and tradition?  Or should we look for something more?

The men of Jesus’ day were asking these same questions.  As the popularity of John the Baptist grew, a delegation of religious leaders questioned him about his identity. While they were busy comparing John with their own expectations, John provoked them to look for something more — more than a political and religious radical, but one who was God and Man, the Coming King of Kings, and the Lamb of God who takes away sin.   John pointed them not to one who could teach them about deliverance, but who alone could deliver them.   What kind of Savior are you looking for?

The Heidelberg Catechism, a time-tested set of questions and answers designed to teach the basics of the Christian faith,  prepares us to ask this question.  By pointing out saviors who can’t save, it asks.

Q15. What manner of mediator and redeemer then must we seek? A: One who is a true and sinless man, and yet more powerful than all creatures, that is, one who is at the same time true God. 

Join us this Sunday, November 24 as we examine John 1:19-34 and consider what type of Savior we are seeking and to what we are pointing others.   We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:45 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.   We look forward to seeing you.