Care and Feeding of the Born-Again Heart: In Remembrance of Our Spiritual Forebears

#7 - Author and Dad Christmas NightChristmastime…

Perfect timing; perfect beauty; perfect dread; perfect Savior… born to die, in my stead!

Today’s feast at the Training Table is just that: A Wholesale Feast of the Born-Again Heart!  And, I’m delighted to say, is being delivered at the exact right time this year: On Christ’s birthday as he humbled himself in many low yet preeminent ways; and the night that my father killed himself Christmas 2002.

As the [inset] illustration of dad, myself, and God in the garden on Christmas night 2002 portrays, the anniversary of Jesus’ “humiliation”, my very own personal heartbreak and humbling, and God’s magnificent condescension and exalting couldn’t be a better time to remind ourselves of the most awesome event in all of history… Done for you and for me and for all who would place their faith in Emmanuel, God with Us, Jesus Christ come Christmas day to eradicate Sin and Death… in the most intimate way imaginable!

So, please—Oh Please do!—take all the time necessary to dwell on the realities of how Jesus Christ humbled Himself just to exalt His Triune name and our names as well—written in eternity past in His book: The Lamb’s Book of Life!

I will certainly be doing so as “John” in the Hebrew is, just as apt as all the rest, means, “God is Mercy”!

Today’s feast of the heart at The Training Table consists of a Christmastime menu item entitled, Christ Humbled Himself, by Samuel Willard.

Q. How far did Jesus Christ have to descend…
before He was born, died, resurrected, and ascended again? 

A. Farther than anyone except God could ever remotely imagine! 

A Condescension Beyond… Beyond… But try this on for size and scope:
In July 1970 a woman Bible teacher gave an illustration that changed Pastor Tim Keller’s life.

She said, “If the distance between the earth and the sun [93 million miles] was reduced to the thickness of a sheet of paper, the distance between the earth and the nearest star would be a stack of paper 70 feet high. The diameter of the galaxy would be a stack of paper 310 miles high. Yet the galaxy is nothing but a speck of dust in a whole universe and the Bible says that Jesus Christ holds the universe in his hand… or with his pinky.”

Then she asked this question, “Is this the kind of person that you ask into your life to be no more than a low paid, personal assistant? I want you to walk around in silence for an hour and think about the implication of this for your life.”

Keller notes, “Up until that point I wanted God to merely be available to me.” But he began during that very talk to sense God’s reality and to experience his glory.

“No matter what!” Tim Keller let God far further, deeper, wider, wholly into his life because he needed to be utterly available to God, period. Unconditionally. At all costs. No matter what. (Tim Keller sermon, The Gospel and Your Self)

Since this time, Pastor Tim Kellerin undying devotion to pleasing God and blessing others—has risen to one of the foremost influences for Jesus Christ in the modern day Christian church.

Purely by grace, only the Holy Spirit can bring us from spiritual death to life… but the reality of Who God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the person of the Holy Spirit IS… ought to bring each one if us to our knees in repentance, reaching out to God, and committing our lives to being on mission with Him!

The Infinite Becomes Intimate:
How Exactly Did the Son of God Humble Himself…
for You and for Me?

There are many ways in which it would be perfectly valid and extremely inspiring and motivating to see the cost to God that His Son Jesus Christ paid to save the world—those who repent and have faith in Him—from Adam’s Original Sin that infects all creation, all humanity, and all our everyday habits of sinning in thought, word, and deed.

Puritan Samuel Willard—in Christ Humbled Himself—used a section of The Westminster Shorter Catechism as the basis for a series of 12 sermons.

Join me for a Feast of the Heart!

Below is an excerpt from Samuel Willard’s sermon—selected to nourish us in the process of fulfilling the Mission of the ministry of Feast of the Heart… which I am devoted to help fulfill.

Reformation… we seek to abide by and serve up the true truth of the Bible.

Revival… we seek to model biblical Christians empowered by the Holy Spirit, Christ-centered, living in word and deed.

Constructive Revolution… we seek to spread the true gospel right where God has planted us with urgency, compassion, and radical self-abandonment.

Christ Humbled Himself, by Samuel Willard.
Question 27 of The Westminster Shorter Catechism reads, “Wherein did Christ’s Humiliation consist?”

Answer: “Christ’s Humiliation consisted in his being born, and that in a low condition, made under the Law, undergoing the miseries of this life, the wrath of God, and the cursed death of the Cross, in being buried, and continuing under the power of Death for a time.”

“We must keep it in mind as we study this subject that Christ’s Humiliation properly consisted in his being subject to the law for us, so that in our place he might both merit and satisfy the requirements of the Law. In this way our whole salvation was to be obtained by his active and passive obedience, and our whole hope for eternal life depends on this: Jesus Christ obeyed in our place.

We are therefore to remember in every passage that follows, the particulars of which are but summarily pointed at in the Answer before us—E.g., “Christ’s Humiliation consisted in his being born…” In order to examine these things in a systematic fashion, we will reduce them to their proper heads.

Jesus Christ is said to “tabernacle among us,” (John 1:14). He sojourned here, as one absent from his home, until he had fulfilled the business his Father sent him here to do.

Christ Humbled Himself in His Birth

In his entrance into the world, there are two things to note: his conception and his birth, which are both mentioned in our [Apostles’] Creed; and examining them both is helpful to establish our faith in him as our Redeemer. The state in which Christ was born shows the depth of his Humiliation.

How remarkable for Hebrews 2:14 to say, “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, Christ himself likewise shared in the same, that through death he might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.” The same flesh and blood as us, he would be a brother of such worms, such corruption as we are, in order that the right of Redemption might belong to him. That is why the Scripture is emphatic in verse 16. It does not say, “the nature of man,” but rather “the seed of Abraham.”

1. Jesus was born under a sentence of condemnation.  As soon as Jesus had put on our nature, he stood under the doom of the Law. He was born to die, and was adjudged by it as soon as he was Man. We are all born children of wrath in our natural state, and he put himself in our place, and therefore came to fulfil the Law, (Mattew 5:17), and this is the main article of it. He would never have been born, if it was not intended to be made a sacrifice: God prepared for Jesus a body for this, (Hebrews 12:5). God’s justice took hold on Jesus, as soon as he came into the world, and did not discharge Jesus until it had taken its satisfaction of him: and he lived in view of this all his days, and spoke of it frequently.

2. Jesus was born of a sinful woman. It was a particular condescension of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to be born of any of Adam’s sinful children. True honour in God’s account consists in holiness, and sin is to God the vilest disgrace. Original sin in Christ’s mother had made her more contemptible and ignoble than anything else could; had she been an empress, it would yet have been to Christ an abasing of himself to derive his humanity from her. That a clean thing should come out of an unclean is strange; for though she was sanctified by grace, nevertheless she had not attained spotless perfection, but still had the stain and pollution of sin on her. As it is a disgrace to have a traitor as one’s father, so it is no less to have a sinner for one’s mother. Thus Christ, though without sin, would be intimately related to sinners, for whose sake he came into the world.

3. Joseph and Mary were very poor and wretched. Mary was Jesus’ true mother, as really as any other mother is the mother of her children. And Joseph, though not really his father, was so in the esteem of men and was commonly accepted so; and the honour or contempt of his father’s condition reflected on him. They were indeed descendants of King David, but they were reduced to an inferior condition, little to be regarded among rich and wealthy neighbours. Joseph was a carpenter, a laborious calling which was not very profitable. Later this would be an excuse for other to speak so contemptuously of Joseph, (Mark 6:3), “Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us? And they were offended at Him.” And why was this? Because sin has robbed us of our honour, and made us ignominious. We forfeited our right to all things, and reduced ourselves to poverty.

4. The time of Jesus’ birth is very important. There was a time when the nation enjoyed its liberty, and had its sway; but he was not born then, but when the nation was in slavery to the Roman Empire. Jesus was born at the time when, in witness of his slavery, there was a proclamation of a tax, and everyone was required to appear to his city to submit, (Luke 2). And at that very time, while this striking picture of slavery was being painted, Jesus must be born into the world. Therefore even in the circumstances of his birth, he not only took on himself the form of a man, but the form of a servant, (Philippians 2:7). And why is this so? Because we now, by sin, have become slaves, and brought under the most cruel bondage of all.

5. The place of his birth and circumstances of it do further set forth the low condition of it. We have it described in Luke 2:7, “And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” When we hear the report of the Great King of the World, the Supreme Potentate, that he is to be born, we would picture the greatest preparations imaginable to be made for the occasion. The most stately palace, the most sumptuous chamber, the most splendid furniture, the most royal attendants and magnificent provision might in some measure be appropriate for his importance. But alas! How far is it from this? Instead of a palace, he is content with a stable; for noble attendants, he is born among the beasts; for costly apparel, either some rags obtained by charity, or whatever his poor parents could afford. Instead of a costly cradle richly prepared, he had a sorry manger, with some hay for a pillow. The best attendants at this solemn occasion was a company of poor folks, who had better places to lodge than Joseph’s. Thus he came silently into the world; no bells rang, no bonfires made, no proclamations issued to invite the world to come and pay homage to their prince. This was because we had stripped ourselves of all deserving, and forfeited our right to every blessing.

6. The reason of his being born in such a place add to this consideration. “Because there was no room for them in the inn.” Alas, what very important people they are in comparison, who took up all the accommodations in Bethlehem, and crowded out the Lord of Glory. Would any of them think or say, that it is good manners for us to give place to our Lord and King? No, he must be so obscure, that his mother must be thrust out, to be delivered of Jesus Christ who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, while the swaggering socialites command all of the best accommodations. Such an inconsequential, unimportant thing did Christ make himself in his very birth. Thus he came into the world, and thus he did in our place, and for our benefit.

APPLICATION: Learn from this, how low sin had laid us, and how much Christ has highly loved us. Truly everything Christ suffered in his Humiliation points to this lesson.

[What is the gospel? That we are more sinful than we could ever dare imagine AND YET in Christ we are more loved than we could ever dare hope for! (Jack Miller)]

When we consider what Christ made himself, it shows us what we had made of ourselves by sin. When we reflect on the fact that he did it for us, it then declares his unspeakable kindness to us.

Let me lay out a few thoughts upon this matter before us. Let me invite you all to come to the birth of your Saviour: see the King of Glory, veiled in obscurity and entering into the world under a cloud. He is the Lord of Heaven and Earth entering into his dominion, in the lowest and most obscure situation imaginable.

He, Jesus Christ, who made both Heaven and Earth, not accommodated with so much as a house to be born in, but to be turned out among the beasts. And why? Our sins procured it; we lost our right to all, we deserved poverty and misery, we deserved to be turned out of house and home. We were under this curse.

[A little low and a little high? If we see ourselves as nothing more than “not as bad as Hitler or not as good as Mother Teresa”, we will never see the lows Christ had to go… in order to love us to the heights He does!]

The Son of God was a great King; he could have commanded the entire world, and with a word built a stately palace, and furnished it in magnificence for himself. But how would he be our Redeemer then? It was “for our sake he became poor,” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

He was “born for us,” (Isaiah 9:6). It was for this reason he was born. Was not this condescension a disclosure of his great love? Let this stable and manger make him exceedingly precious to us!

And if we enjoy any benefits in our birth, let us acknowledge them to him first and foremost. For in the day of patience, God allows this favour even to wicked men; yet God’s people should understand that all their mercies flow through Christ, and ascribe them to him. Every circumstance of our own birth, life, and death should help to establish and increase our love to him.

Christ Humbled Himself in His Life.

We now proceed to look on Jesus during his sojourning in this world. There we may follow him, first in his Private, and then in his Public life. Christ was indeed born to be a public person, and he acted as one from his entrance into the world; however he took upon himself a private situation of life before he entered into his public ministry, at about the age of thirty years, (Luke 3:23).

1. The circumstances of humanity, as Jesus assumed it, so required. Indeed Jesus might have taken our nature with a mature body, even as our first parents were made. But because he determined to be born, he was first an infant, and not suited for public office. There is no question, that if Adam had not fallen, children would have been born as children, with all their limitations until they were grown. These limitations of sinful man, learning to speak, to walk, and so on, are therefore sin’s limitations which Christ took upon himself.

2. The Law under which he was born pointed to it. “He was made under the Law,” (Galatians 4:4), that is to say, Moses’ teaching. Now the Levites were not to enter into public service until they were thirty years old, (Numbers 4:3). Although Christ was not of that tribe and order, they were types of him in this respect. Therefore, despite the wonderful example Jesus gave of his accomplishments at 12 years of age (Luke 2:46, 47) he would accommodate himself to the Law to fulfill all of its righteous requirements, as much in this as in the moral law.

3. Some of God’s people are called to lead a private life, and others are called to public service. Jesus Christ went though both situations, in order to sanctify both of them to his people. Whether we are called to serve God in a “private or public capacity”, we are able to exercise our faith in him for the application of his holiness to us in either situation, so to render us acceptable to God.

Let us begin to look at Jesus’ life as a private person. We will consider, 1. His infant state, and 2. His later life.

Observe how he humbled himself for us in both:
Christ was an infant, to sanctify the infancy of his people. Holiness is required of us from the womb, but our childhood and youth are vanity. David prays, Psalm 25:7, “Do not remember the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions.” This he obtained by faith in Jesus who was a child. Just as it was a humbling of himself for the Son of God to be a baby, weak, hanging on his mother’s breasts and depending on her for everything, so also there were three particularly significant occasions that showed his humility as an infant:

They were, a) his circumcision, and b) his consecration.

In the first two he complied with the ceremonial Law, not because he had any actual defilement of sin, for he was without sin, but because the Law pointed to him as its end, (Romans 10:4), “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” This is the hinge point of grace. It was also to declare that he was a sinner by imputation. If his people had not been sinners, there would have been no need for these ceremonies: they were a “handwriting of requirements that was against [the people]” (Colossians 2:14). Therefore he obeyed them according to their meaning, and so acknowledged himself to be the greatest sinner by imputation.

APPLICATION: What great encouragement we have to go to Christ as our Guarantee and Covenant Worker. Consider how this sinless Saviour became obligated under the Law by so solemn a sacrament as in circumcision. Consider how this was not for himself, because he had no sin that needed to be cut away. Rather, it was for his people: he became our Guarantee and bound himself to satisfy the Law for all who believe in him.

Look upon Jesus Christ now, as having in his circumcision taken all the curse upon himself, in order to remove it from us. How may this serve to strengthen our faith in him, and enable us to rest the more quietly upon him, in a confident expectation of Jesus Christ performing all that is needed for our salvation?” (Christ Humbled Himself, by Samuel Willard, preached May 12, 1696, emphasis, parenthesis added)

“How may this serve…?” Indeed!

How may it serve you?
And your influence of any other people who God has providentially placed in your life?

May God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the supernatural heart-changer, the Holy Spirit, bless you and yours this Christmas season, and every temporal and eternal moment thereafter!!

Tonight, on Christmas night, I will be praising God with each of you as we recall in deeper ways than ever before how Jesus Christ, God with Us, humbled Himself to secure our salvation and place in His everlasting arms forever. Amen.

Perfect timing; perfect beauty; perfect dread; perfect Savior… born to die, in my stead!

Please join us next week as we sup upon Jonathan Edwards’ Resolutions [and, by contrast, our ofttimes short-lived habits of making New Year’s resolutions…].

As a sinner saved by grace in God’s love and truth.

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