The “Already/Not Yet” Tension of Christmas and Our Lives

As I sit and write this blog post, it is Christmas Eve, and I find myself sitting and reflecting about this season, this story, and my life. I would assume that the majority of individuals spent this day rushing around and buying last minute gifts, wrapping the ones that they plan to give, or cooking and cleaning in anticipation of tomorrow’s events. Not me. I have been sitting, (sometimes in quiet solitude, sometimes in a noisy room) and reflecting on what all this really means.

As I consider what Christmas is all about, I could easily get caught up in defending it’s true meaning or complaining about the consumerism that surrounds the event. There is even the temptation to ignore those inconsistencies by just focusing on the importance of family relationships or the occasional heart warming stories that are often told during this season. However, today I find myself reflecting on certain, maybe unnoticed, aspects of what this season should really represent.

First of all, as I have been reading passages from the gospel chronicles, I can’t help but notice the “Already/Not yet” dynamic that is so evident in almost every story. The birth narrative can serve as an example of this. We read that this event was a “present salvation” in the first century. Salvation had come to the world through the birth of the messiah. I find this fascinating that this is the proclamation because even at Jesus’ birth, sin is still reigning in the hearts of humanity. Creation is still affected from the curse. Even throughout the narrative of the life and ministry of Christ we see example after example of how sin is still present.  But, in conjunction with this evidence of sin is also a beautiful picture of Christ’s power over sin: Healings, forgiveness, confronting religiosity. There is just so much about the life of Christ that makes me want to jump out of my seat and say, “Yes! Take that!” or, “Yes! We need more of this!” and yet in my own life I still feel the effects of sin: Bad choices, selfishness, and insecurities. Where is this salvation in my own life that I so want to cheer on when I see it displayed in others? Certainly I can see evidences of salvation in my life. For sure, I am not the same man that I was before Christ called me. There is an emerging new life; there have been many victories; there have been new battles grounds identified that have become the focus for further advancement of God‘s sanctification in my life. With this reflection I began to notice the theological parallels between my own experiences and the birth narrative of Christ. Specifically, the “already” and “not yet” distinctions.

Already. This will be my little girl‘s first Christmas. For her, it’s just another day. For all of us, it’s a whole new experience filled with joy and wonder at this new addition to our family. I love to just sit and watch her play, taking in all the uniqueness of this season, from lights to decorations. I often wonder what she is thinking? What does she think of all of this? Does she think that we have gone overboard, making too big of a deal of it all. There is no doubt this little girl has enriched our lives in the present. There is so much anticipation for her future… What will she look like as a little girl? Will she want to dance or will she play sports? What will her favorite color be? What kind of dad will I be to her? These are the thoughts that flood my mind as I look into her innocent little eyes that are full of wonder… full of potential.

Not Yet. Compare that feeling with the reality that has hit me of this also being the first Christmas without my mom. As Christmas festivities begin there will no doubt be a sense of loss in my heart. My mom provided us with so many Christmas memories that still flood my mind. If I closed my eyes right now, its almost like I can still smell the apple cider heating up on the stove and the smell of our traditional Christmas morning French-toast breakfast. Man, it was the greatest! Mom and I were always the ones that decorated the tree and I will always remember the freedom she gave me in that. Some years, that tree was quite gaudy, as I loved putting icicles on the tree. None of the ornaments matched, but each one had there own story and significance behind it.

I was by her side as she passed from this life into her reward. Watching her every breath as if it were a precious watch counting down the seconds. Sitting in the room that night, holding her hand, my heart was flooded with memory after memory of my experiences with her; some long forgot by my conscience memory but seemingly resurrected from my subconscious as a gift from God for this very time. As she breathed her last breath it was almost like time stood still… I think my heart stopped momentarily in tandem with hers. But as hers ceased to rejuvenate, mine picked up its rhythm again as I had to continue on in this life. In that moment it became apparent to me that my life was going to be very different from that day forward. I went home and held my little girl. I looked into her eyes and knew that there was something bigger than me going on here. Somehow, I believe that I experienced, in very tangible way, one aspect of “already/not yet.”

This Christmas, my dad will wake up in his house alone; his sense of loss greatly trumping mine. But I don’t sit and dwell on what is not; instead, I choose to dwell on what is. Or better yet, what the gospel makes possible. My mom’s absence from us this Christmas is our loss, not hers. I am rejoicing in the promises of Scripture that foresaw the difficulty we would all have when we lose loved ones in Christ and provided so many reassuring promises of greater days than this. The promise is of a glorious reunion in a much larger family. There are promised feasts, singing, rejoicing, dancing, and true freedom. A freedom from even a thought that someday any of these things would be taken from us again by death or sin because they have been soundly defeated!

Today, I am thankful for the blessing of a little girl in my home that promises to bring much joy in the present. Simultaneously, my heart yearns for the day I will experience the incredible presence of God alongside a lady that has gone on before me. I am thankful for the gospel story that is true already, but one day, will be experienced in a much more unfettered way. Already/Not Yet.

Yes, this Christmas I will be reflecting on how the gospel speaks directly and practically to our lives… right now… and yet that same gospel transcends our present existence and speaks to something beyond our comprehension. Brothers and sisters, we have much to be thankful for, much to remember and much to rejoice over! Merry Christmas, and may the Lord bless you and keep you! Amen.


The Dual Nature of Christ

How are we to understand the temptation of Christ in light of the doctrine of “Dual Nature”? Meaning, if Jesus was fully God and fully man, how serious was the temptation that he endured in the Wilderness, or for that matter, throughout his entire life?

It is easy to understand how Jesus as a man would undergo temptation as it is common to the human experience. So, it would seem that the issue lies within the implications of Jesus’ deity. James 1:3 says, Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.” But in Hebrews 4:15 we are told that “…we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One (Jesus) who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” These two passages seem to create a conflict between the two natures of Christ.

Before I tackle this issue let me first demonstrate from Scripture that Christ indeed had two natures within his singular being:

As God, Jesus:                                                          However, as man, Jesus:

-was worshipped (Mt 2:2,11; 14:3)                             -worshipped God (Jn 17)

-is prayed to (Acts 7:59; 1 Cor 1:1-2)                          -prayed to God (Jn 17:1)

-is called God (Jn 20:28; Heb 1:8)                               -was called man (Mk 15:39)

-called the Son of God (Mk 1:1)                                  -was called son of man (Jn 9:35ff)

-is sinless (1 Pt 2:22; Heb 4:15)                                   -was tempted (Matt 4:1)

-knew all things (Jn 21:17)                                            -grew in wisdom (Lk 2:52)

-gives eternal life (Jn 10:28)                                         -died (Rom 5:8)

-and is indwelt by the fullness of God (Col 2:9)        -had a body of flesh (Lk 24:39)

Do you see the difficulty of synthesizing these texts into an easy to understand doctrine of Christ’s deity and humanity? Well, I am going to give it my best shot in 300 words or less. Here it goes:

We see in Scripture that the divine nature and human nature of Christ coexisted within his person. The scriptures mentioned above tell us that God cannot sin and is not even tempted by sin, and yet the passage from Hebrews states clearly that Christ has been tempted in every way as we are and yet he remained sinless. From the vantage point of the divine I think it would be safe to conclude that Jesus could not have sinned. But from the human perspective Jesus MUST have been truly tempted. So the question becomes, if the divine nature of Christ keeps him from sinning then how could he have even been truly tempted?

Everything Jesus did, he did by looking at the Father. In John 5:19 Jesus said “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner…” Here is my question… Is this anything different than what our own experience should be? I would say no. Jesus was modeling for us, in every aspect of his life and ministry, exactly what we are supposed to do and be. Since we are not divine beings but are indwelt by the divine, I believe Jesus modeled this aspect of redeemed humanity for us. Looking to the Father and empowered by the Spirit.

Here is another example: In Matthew 12:22 Jesus was casting out demons. The Pharisees accused Jesus of casting them out by the power of Beelzebub (Satan). Jesus accused the Pharisees of being guilty of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Why the Holy Spirit? Why not Jesus? I believe it was because every miracle he preformed he did by the power of the Holy Spirit, just like the apostles. If Jesus operated in his deity, it would seem that all of his miracles would have been done in his own power, but over and over again Jesus performs the miraculous through the power of the Spirit and by the prompting of the Father.

Last point for this short blog: Jesus said he came to fulfill the law. In Matthew 5:17, Jesus says, “17 Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them…” I believe that Jesus is speaking of his humanity here. God has no reason to fulfill his own law, the law was created for man. God would have no problem fulfilling His own law, but man has always fallen short of God’s law. It makes sense, that in his humanity, not in his deity, Jesus came to show how a human should live under the law of God. Again, Dominion of the world was given to a man, was lost by a man, therefore I conclude it must redeemed by a man. This is why Paul says in Philippians 2:5,  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Paul seems to be saying that Christ laid aside his deity to embrace and live in his humanity. This doesn’t not mean that Christ ceased to be Divine, only that he worked from the perspective of his humanity as an example of servanthood and humility for us. Also in 2 Corinthians 4:4, In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” This is an obvious allusion back to the creation narrative in reference to the creation of man in Genesis 1:26. In 1 Cor. 15:45 Paul says, 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.” So, Paul seems to picture Jesus as the prefect human, the perfect image of God, His perfect likeness. Jesus is what Adam should have been but he sinned. Therefore, Jesus is the perfect example of what man was intended to be from the beginning.

Ask yourself this: If there is no way Jesus could have sinned, what was the purpose of the temptation in the wilderness? To prove who he was to Satan? Nope, Satan already knew who he was. Was God trying to prove it to Jesus? Nope, He already knew too. It seems to be because Jesus could have really given in to the temptations and yet he never did. Notice that the first two temptations consisted of Satan trying to get Jesus to exit out of his humanity and make use of his deity. The last temptation is Satan tempting Jesus as a human to take a short cut in reclaiming lost creation.

Jesus never sinned because, as man, he kept his eyes on the Father, keeping perfect fellowship with Him… and yet, as the Divine he was the Word. As a man, Jesus was sensitive to the Spirit’s leading in his life, and because he did these perfectly, he never sinned. Could Jesus have sinned? Sure, he was human, but because he trusted in the power of the Spirit and the Word of God and the will of his Father, he did not succumb to temptation and he never sinned. Also, from the perspective of the Divine nature, Jesus would never choose sin. The issue has more to do with capacity than it does with weakness. There are many things in my own life that I have the capacity to do, but because of my predisposition I will never act on that capacity. I believe the same is true of Christ and his nature and capacity.

These are just my thoughts, and I do see this as a third order issue. Therefore, there can be disagreement and continued fellowship. However, I believe there must be agreement that Christ was fully divine and fully human. That is non-negotiable. How those two natures were utilized (or unutilized) will always be an interesting inquiry!