The foundation of our Christian faith rests on the fact that Jesus Christ is God, human and Immanuel (God with us). As we continue our reading of Hidden Christmas by Tim Keller together as Nettie’s Book Club, we encounter these three facets of the character and personhood of Jesus. This week we will also investigate why this is significant to Christmas, and how it turns our worlds upside down.
During week 2 we will read Chapter 3 with Matthew 1:18-23 and Chapter 4 with Matthew 2:1-23.
But as [Joseph] considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.Matthew 1:20-21
As twenty-first-century Christians, we can often underestimate the shocking circumstances of the birth of Jesus Christ as seen through the eyes of the Jews at the time. A teenage virgin is told by the Holy Spirit that she will bear a son. With some divine convincing her fiance’ decides to stand by her, while both of them know full well they will be shunned by society. Joseph also understood that he will enjoy none of the patriarchal benefits of fatherhood – he won’t even get to name his adopted son. Yet this is only the beginning of the disruption of Christmas.
In Chapter 3, Tim Keller reminds us that Jesus is God, human and with us.
Jesus is God
Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit, which makes God his father, not Joseph. Furthermore, his divinity is emphasized throughout scripture by Jesus himself as “I am” (see John 8:58, Exodus 3:13-14 and Acts 2:41) as well as in the epistles (see Colossians 2:9 and 2 Peter 1:1). If we have to believe and accept the incarnation of a perfect God into this world, the rest of the truth of Jesus becomes easier to wrap our heads around.
“If there is a God, and he has become human, why would you find it incredible that he would do miracles, pay for the sins of the world, or rise from the dead?”Tim Keller, Hidden Christmas
The fact that Jesus is God should also cause a personal crisis in your and my heart – a change or difficulty for each of us. Jesus changes things and evokes a strong reaction. Like his contemporaries, you cannot remain neutral in his presence: you are either furious at his claims, terrified of his power or you kneel in worship before him. If he is who he says he is you have to centre your life around him. If he is not who he claims to be, you must run away from him. There is no middle ground.
The fact that Jesus is God in the flesh also fills us with great hope in what his coming to earth as a baby means for us. It means there is life after death, that evil and suffering will end and there is hope despite our failings. As we saw in our previous book club study of The Gospel According to Satan by Jared C. Wilson – because God is perfectly holy sin had to be paid for. But because he is also infinitely loving he came down to us to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. This fills us with sustaining, deep hope for our future.
Jesus is Human
“The incarnation is the universe-sundering, history-altering, life-transforming, paradigm-shattering event in history.”Tim Keller, Hidden Christmas
Paul explains in Philippians 2:5-11 how Jesus gave up His divinity to come to earth and live a hard, normal human life ending in a cruel death on the cross. When this truth takes hold of your heart, you cannot help but bow down in humble service to your Saviour. It also fills us with infinite comfort in suffering to know that our “Wonderful Counselor” knows our suffering first hand (Hebrews 2:17-18). The incarnation means that God suffered and triumphed over suffering which qualifies him with infinite power to comfort us in our suffering. No other God in any other religion has ever humbled himself like this.
For me personally, the most powerful example of Jesus’ suffering as a “normal” human is the fact that he had to endure the pain of unanswered prayers to his Father. In the garden of Gethsemane, he pleaded for the cup of suffering to be removed from him but he also knew he had to die for our sins (Matthew 23:29 & Matthew 27:46). Jesus Christ knows suffering, which qualifies him to comfort us in all circumstances.
Jesus Christ with us
Another aspect of Christmas that we take for granted is our proximity to God himself. In the Old Testament, coming face to face with God was terrifying – he was unapproachable. When the designated priest entered the holy of holies once a month a rope had to be tied around his waist in case he drops dead in the awesome presence of God and needs to be pulled out (without anyone entering the holy place). Through the birth of Jesus Christ, we can now meet God wherever we are, know him and allow his awesome presence to fill us with joy and amazement whenever we call on him in prayer. Jesus makes it possible for us to have a communal relationship with God filled with courage and grace.
For the Jews of the ancient world, it would be unfathomable to be so close to God, but we can so easily take this privilege for granted.
“Jesus literally moved heaven and earth to get near us – what should we be doing now to truly be with him?”Tim Keller, Hidden Christmas
This relationship should fill you and me with the courage to face the world’s disdain, to give up our right to self-determination and most importantly, the courage to admit that we are sinners. It took more courage for Jesus to be with us than it will ever take for us to be with him, but he thought it was worth it because he loves us so much. This love should humble us to draw close to him through love and make him the centre of our lives.
“See him doing all that he did for you, and that will draw out your love for him – and then you will have the courage to put him in the center of your life, and then he will be with you, and you with him.”Tim Keller, Hidden Christmas
Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to any of the books studied by Nettie’s Book Club. I am not profiting from the sale of these books. I will carefully select books that have had a significant impact on my faith. My goal is simply to share the wisdom in these books with others so we can assess and apply the wisdom of these authors to grow in understanding of our faith together.