Tuesday, December 11, 2012

WELCOME

(Photo taken by author in Tasmania)

The birth of Jesus was welcomed by angels, one of whom said to shepherds in a field, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people’ Luke 2:10. The angel then told them where to find the Saviour. Then a multitude of the heavenly host appeared to them, saying, ‘Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, and goodwill toward men!’ Luke 2:14. Notice that the ‘heavenly host’ echoed to the shepherds what the first angel had said. The birth of Jesus was going to be good news to mankind, God’s ‘goodwill toward men.’ What does this mean? Well, it cannot mean that the birth of Jesus (and everything that that entailed, including His resurrection) is going to be believed on by every single human being. The proliferation of anti-Christian books testifies that not everyone welcomes Jesus. Indeed, even in Jesus’s day the people who should have been expecting Him to visit were rejecting Him, ‘He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him’ John 1:11. It is as Paul says, ‘As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “LORD, who has believed our report?”’ Romans 10:15-16. However, the shepherds to whom the angels appeared welcomed the report and made widely known the good news of Jesus’s birth.

Now, some claim to be ‘agnostic’ when it comes to God, His angels, and His Good News. They claim not to believe in things they, as individuals, cannot see. Regardless, God’s Word says they ‘supress the truth in unrighteousness,’ and ‘what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them’ Romans 1:18-19. To cut the long story short, there are three interconnected ways in which God makes Himself known to every single human being: a) By the things He has made (Romans 1:20). b) By His written Word (2 Timothy 3:16). And, c) By your conscience (Romans 2:14-15).

Let us look at each of these in reverse order: 1. What is the conscience? A dictionary definition is, ‘[That] faculty by which distinctions are made between moral right and wrong.’ This concurs with God’s Word which says the conscience is that which bears witness, either accusing or excusing us (see Romans 2:15). Richard Sibbes sums it up well, ‘The conscience is the soul reflecting upon itself.’ Keep this picture in mind, the picture of your soul looking into a mirror. Your soul is who you are. 2. What is God’s Word? God’s Word is the mirror. Let me explain. Every human being comes into this world with God’s Word stamped on their heart, which is to say that each of us is the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27; James 3:9). Our conscience is the faculty that tells us that there is something wrong with the image. That is why, at times, we have an accusing conscience! Our conscience accuses when we fail to measure up to our own set of morals. Our own set of morals is what remains in us of God’s image. If you will, sin has shattered us as God’s perfect image, but there are shards remaining by which our soul can see a true reflection of what we are supposed to be. 3. What are the things God has made? Everything in creation (including ourselves). These serve to remind us of the Creator and that we, along with everything else, are creatures of His creation. If we were to add it all together we might say that our consciences, God’s Word, and creation are three witnesses that testify who God is and who we are. We are God’s little mirrors. Our own soul constantly looks into our own mirror. What do we see? We tend to see other people’s imperfections and sin far better than we see our own! But what does God see when He looks at you? ‘There is none righteous, no, not one’ and ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ Romans 2:10&23.

Let us return to where we started, i.e., with a group of lowly shepherds welcoming the good news about the arrival on earth of the Saviour. Who is the Saviour? He is the God the Word, ‘The Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ John 1:14a. ‘[God] has in these last days spoken to us by His Son … who being the brightness of His glory [is] the express image of His person’  Hebrews 1:2-3a. We all fall short of God’s glory, but He is the brightness of God’s glory. We are a distorted image of God, but He is the express image.

What do you see when you look at the Jesus revealed in Scripture? Peter, as he began to realise who Jesus is, in a moment of rashness, said, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!’ Luke 5:8b. Jesus welcomes sinners! Do you welcome Him?

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