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Changed By Glory

"And we all… beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another." II Cor. 3:18

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Incarnation

My Glory I Will Not Give To Another: The Jealousy of God & The Necessity of The Incarnation

Living in the part of the world where I do, desiring to be a faithful Christian witness, requires the ability to answer certain questions, especially those regarding the deity of Christ and the Trinity.

A question that has come up not only here, but across history is, “Why did God have to become man?”

There are a lot of dimensions to the answer to that question. Why did the atoning sacrifice have to be God as well as man?

The most common answer given is something along the lines of “an infinite guilt before an infinite God required a sacrifice of infinite worth”. This is a true answer, but left to itself that is somewhat of an unsatisfying answer and even difficult to thoroughly substantiate from scripture alone. I think this answer is absolutely true, but another dimension that is often neglected in answer to the question “why the God-man?” is the jealousy of God.

The answer to the question central to the Christian faith has multiple dimensions. The justice of God, the love of God, the wrath of God, the mercy of God, the righteousness of God all must be considered in finding the “why” of God becoming man. But I think that there is one foundational doctrinal dimension that isn’t mentioned.

That is the jealousy of God. When we talk of the jealousy of God we must not think of a pouty child who didn’t get what their friend has. No, God must be jealous because he is perfectly righteous. God must always act in a way that upholds his glory. To do otherwise would be unjust. For God to seek anything other than his glory as his ultimate aim would be unrighteous, which he cannot be.

The first and second commandment that God gave to his people highlight this as a foundation which all else must be built on.

“You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God.” (Exodus 20:3-5 ESV)

To worship anyone else as God or to place alongside God any competitor is the root of wickedness.

Thus even in His acts of grace God is working for his glory, as he makes clear in his mercy toward Israel in the midst of their rebellion:

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.” (Ezekiel 36:22-23 ESV)

In Ezekiel, God was making a promise to show his chosen people amazing mercy and we know from other places that though he loved them, his ultimate reason for saving them instead of destroying them, was his “name”, his reputation, his glory. God does not need to pretend to be something that he is not. In fact he must be and act according to what he is – ultimate. He must vindicate his glory.

Therefore, in saving a people for his glory from their sins it was necessary that God structure that salvation in such a way that without mistake he would get all of the glory for that salvation. Not only did his justice have to be met and his law kept, it had to be done in a way in which he received all of the praise for it. Therefore, Ephesians 2:8-9 declares to recipients of that salvation:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

(Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV)

Salvation must be by grace because God alone must get all of the glory. This is important for us to see in order for us to understand the “why” of the incarnation. A plan of salvation, if it were even possible, that required 99% God’s grace and 1% the works of man would conflict with God’s righteous demand that he get all of the glory.

So how does this relate to the incarnation of Jesus Christ? What does the jealousy of God have to do with why God stepped into time and became man? Seems like a bit of a paradox – that God in the vindication of his glory would humble himself to such a degree. But when you understand what God accomplished in the flesh it becomes clear why.

This much is certainly clear. It had to be a man, a perfect man, who would die in the place of men (Heb. 2:9-18). There had to be a second Adam to be the head of a new humanity. But this man had to be God because in saving a people for himself God had to be the one who did the entire work so that God alone would get the praise.

Christ, as a man, was completely obedient to God, even to the point of death on the cross for sin that was not his own. What was the result of this?  Philippians 2:8-11 tells us:

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:8-11 ESV)

Do you see the “therefore”? As a result of Jesus’ obedience in dying for sin that was not his own, he is given this lofty position, such that at his name every knee would rightly bow.

This bowing and calling “Lord” is behavior that only God himself is worthy of. Let’s imagine for a second that it was possible for a man, a mere man, to be perfect and to die for the sins of God’s elect. The debt of gratitude is immediately transferred to the one who died! If the fire department sends a truck to come to my rescue and a firefighter dies in the process of rescuing me, who do I remember? Who do I praise? Best case scenario I split the credit and praise the firefighter and the department for sending him. But can God share his praise with man?

I am the LORD; that is my name;

my glory I give to no other,

nor my praise to carved idols.” (Isaiah 42:8 ESV)

If God shared his praise with a merely human savior he would not be good or righteous.

God had to become man and secure our entire salvation himself from start to finish because he must get all of the glory.(1) This is a fixed reality in the universe because of who God is. He must get all of the praise. God humbled himself in love and became man to die for sinful men because this was the only way he could save us and get all the glory. If, theoretically, it were even possible for a man to be perfect and die in the place of men, it would not be right because it would divert praise away from God himself. God must get all of the credit for our salvation, that – I would argue – is the crowning reason that God became man.

Someone had to die in our place that was a pure sacrifice. That someone had to be a man. And he had to be God – because among other reasons, God must get all of the glory.

Salvation must be accomplished in such a way that we declare with David:

“Salvation belongs to the LORD” (Psalm 3:8 ESV)

And praise God it was accomplished. Because God became man this is the song that we will sing forever,

“Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:10 ESV)

This is how it must be.

So when someone here asks me, “Why do you believe God had to become man?”

My first answer is, “Because if God is going to save us, he must get all of the glory.”

Footnote:

(1)  This introduces another interesting fact that only a God that is Trinity could save us. Without a God who is Triune there is no salvation.

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God is not Wilfred

It is not uncommon for art to take shots at God. Perhaps some of the most profound pieces of literature, music, and film are those that really take aim at the idea of God. More than a few films take subtle (or not so subtle) shots at the Divine, usually exalting humans as the ones who are kind and good, who need to be freed to exercise their independence. But more often than not, these attempts to dethrone God reveal that God’s harshest critics don’t really know him.

Last year I watched a film that was very well done called Snowpiercer, written and directed by Korean filmmaker Joon-ho Bong. Please note before you go watch it that it was violent and contained language, but it was clearly one of those films that was aiming to wax eloquent as a parable of mankind’s struggle against the idea of God.

Set in a post-apocalyptic world where the globe is frozen and devoid of life, a few thousand survivors for nearly two decades have been aboard a self-sustaining train that circles the globe, never stopping. As long as the train keeps moving and all of its systems are functioning humanity survives. The builder of this train, named Wilfred, is viewed as divine, with hymn-like songs written in his honor. He is worshipped as being sovereign and benevolent, at least by the privileged. The train is divided into two classes, the poor crammed into the back of the train and the rich near the front. These people are seen to be in their place by the predestined plan of Wilfred, fulfilling their place in the order that keeps the train going.

The movie centers on the people in the back of the train who want equality, they want to get to the front of the train, to the “divine engine” and take it over. So on an appointed day after much planning, they revolt. In the process they capture one of Wilfred’s cruel lackeys, a pathetic, sycophant of a woman named Mason. And this is where the story gets interesting….

The people from the back of the train are about kill Mason who had been an executor of injustice so many times. But she reasons with them. Up to this point it has been clear that the divine Wilfred, creator and sustainer of the train, sovereign predestinator of everyone on board is Bong’s rendering of God and some aspects of how he is portrayed, though crude, seem to be reflections of the sovereign God of Scripture. It seems maybe this artist is building a convincing case against God, but then words. Words that reveal something very important about Bong’s conception of God.

On the verge of being put death Mason proclaims that “Wilfred is divine! Wilfred is merciful!” So Curtis, the leader of the people from the back of the train says to her, “Call him. See if he’ll save you.”

In the clutches of these desperate people at the back of the train, she responds.

“He won’t come here. He won’t leave his engine.”

Ah. Pause and think about it.

There it is.

Maybe the caricature of God would hold true for the many gods out there. Deities that are echoes of the hissing of serpent in Eden….

But as a Christian I can gladly proclaim, “God is not Wilfred.”

Why?

Because the God of the Bible came to the back of the train so the he himself could lead those captive there to the front of the train.

Mankind had no lack. No want of anything in the universe that God created. But they believed a lie, much like the lie put forth in the movie, that God is not good and that he is holding out something good from us. This plunged mankind into bondage to sin and death. But God promised that what he had made would not remain like this. He would send his Son to the back of the train, to suffer with all the rest and for all the rest. He would take the punishment for their rebellion and he would open all the doors all the way to the front of the train where they would enjoy fellowship with the sovereign Lord forever.

Many would watch the movie Snowpiercer and consider it to be so profound. But it is only profound in the sense of how accurately it shows the God satan tells us is there, rather than the God that is there in reality. The God that is is indeed the sovereign predestinator of all things. He is the Creator. He is high above his creation. But he is also the God who in love came to his creation to rescue, to redeem, and to do so not by just “paying a visit” but by humbly suffering and dying and rising so that he could lead a host of captives to his eternal dwelling.

“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:9-10 ESV)

(Another Reason) Why We Practice Communion Every Week

We hear it every week here. The bread represents the broken body and the cup represents the shed blood of Jesus the Christ. Bound up in the significance of body and blood is the source of our unity as a church. Throughout the week we are tempted, like every family, to allow selfishness and pride to create schism. Pursuit of unity is one of the things we are called to as a church[i], but it is probably one of the most difficult things to maintain. We practice communion every week at Immanuel Fujairah because we believe, in part, that these symbols represent the basis of our perseverance in unity.

The bread that is broken is a reminder of the body of the Lord Jesus which was broken for his church[ii]. There is a significance here beyond the breaking, it is the fact that there was anything broken at all! Jesus Christ, God himself, stepped into time, the Word made flesh was not an apparition.[iii] He took on a body. Corruptible. Susceptible to decay. Prone to suffering. The fact that there is a body and there is God in one glorious, mysterious union shows us an important aspect of the body of Christ we visualize in the sacrament of communion. That is that “Since therefore the children [of God] share in flesh and blood, he likewise partook of the same things… he had to be made like his brothers in every respect….”[iv] Indeed his body was broken on this cross, but that body already bore the exhaustion and the scars of life. He became one of us so that he could not only suffer for us in crucifixion, but so that he could suffer for us in temptation.[v]  So that he could be a man, the only sinless man, sinless because that is what all of us should be and it is what all of us have failed to be.[vi] When we see the bread we are reminded of the totality of his righteous life for us. Our souls, starved of righteousness, depleted of virtue, weakened by impurity, look to the bread – substance of righteousness, justice, and holiness. It is extended to us to be received by faith. The bread is only significant in the breaking if we see the glory of the bread itself – the incarnation – the thirty years of perfection in the flesh for us.[vii]

We come to the table each week then, often times either feeling depressed by our failures and inability to measure up to God’s standard or we come proud with a sense that we have done well, quick therefore to be critical of others. The bread reminds both groups of people of their common source of righteousness. It reminds us of the one who became like us so that he could become sin for us and give us the very righteousness of God.[viii] This lifts the heart of the downcast and it humbles the self-righteous.

This reminder of our common righteousness reveals anew our lack of it and it highlights our sinful actions, thoughts, and motives. And it is here that we see the unifying significance of the cup. There is no sliding-scale of penance when we come each week with our various sins, there is only the blood. And in communion we are reminded of its sufficiency for sin in all of its disturbing variety. The cup is a reminder of the gory price that our sin required – small or great in our eyes.[ix] It is at the same time disturbing and comforting. Beautiful and macabre. It reminds each of us with our unique transgressions each week that all of our sin demanded the same brutal penalty before God’s tribunal. We want to think that a lesser price was paid for our pride or gossip than was paid for someone’s adultery or murder, but the cup testifies that the cleansing is the same. The cup will not allow us to tear our gaze from the bloody cross where Christ secured the cleansing of your murder and my “harmless” deceit. The cup reminds all of us as a church that there is no hierarchy of sins before the transcendent holiness of God. This unifies us. It “puts us in our place”. A place of honesty, humility, and therefore mutual understanding.

One of the reasons we take communion every week is because it reminds us that as diverse as we are we have two things in common – we need an alien righteousness that is perfect and we need a cleansing from sin that is of infinite worth. Only the unique God-Man, Jesus Christ, can provide these. Every time we gather we will be tempted to divide. We are quick to forget. Communion points us afresh to what we all have in common – common guilt, common hope. Through a common righteousness and a shared cleansing we are united to Christ and therefore we are united to each other. We need to be reminded of that every week.

[i] Eph. 4:3

[ii] i.e. 1 Cor. 11:24

[iii] 1 John 1:1-2

[iv] Heb. 2:14,17

[v] Heb. 2:18

[vi] Rom. 3:23

[vii] Phil. 2:6-11

[viii] 2 Cor. 5:21

[ix] Heb. 9:22

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