By Kiang P Lee
Greetings once more friends the world over! May the joys of Christmas be yours, and a reward-filled New Year await you!
It is that time of year which believers with genuine hearts, apart from all the distractions, celebrate with true rejoicing hearts. It is a story which carries such deep spiritual meaning with equally transcendent impact beyond any story man could have written. Why, because the story of Christmas, or the birth of the Messiah, is God’s own story about mankind. It’s time we read the whole story as God tells us, and celebrate it as a gift from God as we enter this season of rejoicing.
The Shepherds Visit the baby Jesus – a small section of the large altarpiece in the Certosa in Naples (Wiki Commons)
God had His prophet Micah predict the birth of Jesus this way, “As for you, Bethlehem of Ephrathah, even though you remain least among the clans of Judah, nevertheless, the One who rules in Israel for Me will emerge from you. His existence has been from antiquity, even from eternity” (Micah 5:2). It is clear the Messiah’s progeny is key to His role as Savior – He exists from eternity, He is the Son of God.
The Ambiguous Story of Jesus
As we celebrate the birth of Christ, let’s go back to the beginning to recap God’s story for man. For too long the message of Jesus Christ as the Savior has been cloaked in ambiguity because it is being told from the middle of God’s own story about man. There is one message millions have heard about Christ – Jesus died for your sins to save you. (John 3:16) Important as that is, it does not tell the full story. Not even half the story. When you read a book from the middle, you’re always left with many ‘whys’ as you go along because you don’t know what had gone on before. It’s so vital to understand that the incarnation comes before the redemption. So the onus is upon story-tellers to tell the full account of God’s story of man so hearers understand the fundamental imperative for a Messiah. So, many a non-believer has asked, why must my sins be forgiven? Why must it be Jesus and not someone else? Why must He die? The predictable reply is Jesus is God’s own Son, and He died to save man from his sins. Yet again, the person snaps back, but why – to what end? Right here, we have a coin-toss for the many answers that Christians give. Take your pick! We will see at the end of of the three-part write-up, there is only one answer God gives us when we understand the full story.
Angel Announcing the Birth Of Jesus to Shepherds Stained Glass 1691 (Wiki Commons)
Reasons to Believe
One reason given is, so you can go to heaven when you die – but why is that so important? By obtaining a ticket into heaven, you obviously exchanged it for your ticket to hell because of your sins. Why heaven, what’s in there for me? What is hell anyway, has anyone been there to tell its horrific tale as the claim suggests? How does God’s Love reconcile with such a place as hell?
Take the prosperity gospel, it seems the proponents of this belief care just for the here and now. Perhaps heaven and hell is too far-fetched for them. Then, there are those who believe in Jesus because of one’s tradition, as it were a family or village custom to become a believer. It’s just rubber-stamping, but does it mean anything to the person? There are those who believe Jesus is a great moral teacher who came to make this a better world – much like Buddha, nothing more or less.
The Pew Research group says, “A majority of all American Christians (52%) think that at least some non-Christian faiths can lead to eternal life.” (www.pewresearch.org) So, Jesus’ birth as man’s only Savior is now snubbed by His own followers. “Nearly half (47%) says that one’s actions are the key to determining eternal fate, with nearly one-third (29%) saying that being a good, moral person is the key to everlasting life.” So your moral compass means more to your eternal fate than Jesus. A Barna survey says that most Christians don’t believe that Satan or the Holy Spirit exists. (www.barna.org) So, one may adopt his/her brand of faith before a smorgasbord of beliefs. Sadly, this is the upshot of religion dictating a relationship which God intended from the beginning to be personal and one-on-one. What do we believe? Why this confusion? Because the Christian message is unclear and ambiguous.
The Full Story
Let’s take God’s story from the beginning so we are not left with many ‘whys’ about God’s call to His purpose for providing a Messiah. The only reason God made man is revealed in these words He uttered from the beginning, “Let Us make mankind in Our image, in Our likeness, so they may have dominion over the earth.” (Gen.1:26-30) It’s plain, it’s simple. You can say it bears the title of the God’s book about man. I will share the story of God about man in three parts, with God’s Son as the central part of its theme.
Now, from Adam to this day, God has never deviated from His story line for mankind with His Son as central to its theme. The story of man’s own history upon this earth has been a mixture of experiences of “good and evil.” There have been many horrendous stories of man as there are helpful ones. In modern times many have not forgotten the atrocities perpetrated in the death camps of World War Two. We can go further back and recount many equally horrific acts of man’s inhumanity to man. There have been good done also, like what we have witnessed in recent history in the field of education, the sciences, technology, medical advancement, transportation, and so forth. Yet, despite the ‘good’ man has witnessed, his knowledge has also been used to create weapons of mass destruction that’s capable of wiping man from the face of the earth. Akin to Winston Churchill words, man’s own story has been “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”
God had warned Adam, if he went down this path and write his own story about man, he would live a life of “good and evil” that was depicted in the forbidden fruit he and his wife Eve were deviously led to partake. Though there was ‘good,’ it was not God’s goodness, but man’s duplicitous good. (Isa.64:6; Jer.17:9; Rom.3:23) God’s goodness produces an authentic good that’s represented in the “Tree of life,” which was also in the Eden. (Gen.2:9)
Tree of Life
The Tree of Life was man’s salvation. It represented all the goodness and grace of God to man. Adam botched it, plain and simple. And mankind have been recipients of Adam’s story humans have been writing and rewriting for six thousand years of history. It’s the story of man’s stamp of good and evil in the world that’s leading to a certain dark future. Not unless, Someone steps in to stop this tide of ‘madness’ at its tracks. This is where the birth of the Messiah is ushered in which we celebrate today. Very simply, He came to take us to the Tree of Life which Adam failed to do. For in the Tree of life, God’s story about man can be written, and is being rewritten. The Tree of Life is the metaphor for the Holy Spirit who brings God’s Love to flow in us like a river of living waters. (Rom. 5:5; John 7:37-39)
I would like to present God’s story about man in 3 broad parts. In this piece we will cover part one, and parts two and three before we come to Christmas, 2014.
Tree of Life – Sculpture by Beth Erez (Wiki Commons)
When God said He created man for the purpose of irrevocably fashioning man in His own image and likeness, we have to ask why, what, how, and when about His story as it relates to you and me. His story about man has always been a personal story about you and me, just as it was personal with Adam and Eve. His work of fashioning man in His image can only be done on a personal, one-on-one basis. There was no religion around to dictate Adam and Eve’s relationship with God. Maybe there was, in the form of the intruder, the devil himself. He’s not asking you to join a religion which dictates your relationship with Him.
Our relationship with God is not based upon a system of beliefs but a relationship of Love with the Person whose birthday we honor at this time of year. He is the central theme in God’s story about man. We encounter Him in His Word, the Bible. Jesus is the Personified Word of God, and we have the Bible as the literal Word of God. We find our place in the world through His Word (Jesus). No religion can lead us to our destiny in Christ. Only God can lead us through each of our gifts He bequeaths upon us on a personal, one-on-one basis. Our gifts is our personality embodied in the Tri-Personal Loving Being of God. Religion cannot do for God what only God can do for and by Himself. Nothing must and stand between you and God. He desires a personal relationship with you, directly. Jesus was born for that very purpose. That’s the important criterion to understand about the story of man God has written in the past, is doing now, and into the future. It is a story penned in the heart of each individual on the basis of a personal relationship with each man, woman, and child that’s ever been born. (Heb.8:10)
Why… should I be conformed to His image and likeness, I may ask? Because of His Love, and because He is Love! It’s plain and it’s simple, yet mind-boggling in its scope. God wanted man to share in everything that He Is, and who He Is – His image is His Love – because He can never deviate from doing things out of the magnanimity of His Love. We are told in Scripture, “God is Love” (1John 4:8). He is not made of Love – His IS Love! God is forever “giving,” that’s what Love does. From eternity, God exist in their Tri-Personal life through the power of their Love for each other. Man’s very existence is the result of the ongoing flow of God’s Love within His Triune Being flowing out to man. Were it not so, we would cease to exist altogether. God’s Love is like a river which flows and enriches everything and everyone in its path and never takes back. (John 7:37-39) It is hard to comprehend God’s ever-giving Love, when we have for six thousand years lived in the story line of self-centeredness Adam has penned for man. Man has always been about himself. He is fallen, depraved and corrupt. Even the good he does is done with an ulterior motive. (Jer.17:9) Jesus was born to unify mankind to the Tri-Personal Being and Love of God. God seeks a relationship of Love with man as His very own children as Jesus is His Son. God’s story of man tells us how he plans to do just that.
A Vital Part of Wisdom – Asking Questions (Wiki Commons)
What… is His image and likeness? Love cannot exist in isolation. So, when He said “Let Us…make man in OUR image, after OUR likeness…” in the Genesis creation account of man, He was revealing Himself as existing in His Tri-Personal Being as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (Gen. 1:26; Matt.28:19; John 14:10, 16; 16:7) The Hebrew word “Elohim” describes a uniplural God. God is Trinitarian in His nature. Love by its nature is relational. Is it possible for God who is Love to exist in isolation, in solitude – unaccompanied, secluded, alone in self-absorbed existence? If God were one solitary person, with no one to love and share His divine Being, then His affirmation that “God is Love” would be meaningless. (1 John 4:8) And we know God is Tri-Personal and spirit-composed, and we are solitary, self-absorbed humans made of flesh and blood. “Likeness” means to become ONE and alike. It is to be natured in the Love of God which binds us as ONE. God’s purpose is to make His people become ONE where they are of a single identity or image of Love in Him, not apart from Him. He seeks to make us His very own children so He can shower all His Love upon us.
God is composed of three Love Personalities, as Father, Son, and Spirit, in ONE Triune Being. And so is mankind composed of many different gifts and personalities God has conferred upon us through the Spirit. We are united in our diverse personalities in His Triune Being of Love. Our numerous and distinct personalities and gifts reveal the greatness of God who created and Loves us as His children. To conform to that image of the Tri-Personal God composed in Love is what salvation is to mankind. We may have different ways to explain salvation, but its essence is to conform as One in the image of God who is Love. Hence, we are told, “For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of (of LOVE of) his Son” (Rom.8:29, emphasis added). As I said earlier, this is the basis of how God’s story of man is written. It is based upon the Triune Love relationship of the Father, Son, and Spirit, where we are brought into a personal relationship with each other within the Triune Being of God Himself in Christ. Jesus unified our humanity to the Trinitarian God as the prophesied Emmanuel. (Isa. 7:14; Matt.1;23)
Our mentality and psyche for living ought always to be that we are walking on the very grounds, and in the midst, of the Tri-Personal Being of God in the all sufficiency and expectation of His Triune Love.
How… yes, how is God possibly going to make this “Triune-likeness” mandate happen? How will God go about making man, whom He has made of flesh and blood, into a spirit-composed person, and a Love-composed person as He IS?
The answer… We’ll answer the How question more in-depth in part two, but suffice to say that only Someone from within the Triune Godhead can take man and change man into the Trinitarian likeness and Life of God (Love). That’s the only way, there is no other way. It’s much like trying to domesticate a beast from the wild. We train it to give the animal, say a chimpanzee, some semblance of our humanity in order to live among us. We remove its wild instincts and to some degree instill the human spirit in it. Most times it’s to reflect our humorous spirit in the animal. Why is the dog call man’s best friend? We have seen and continue to see many animated movies that have been produced along this theme. Man trains the chimpanzee to project the image he wants the chimpanzee to adopt. When the beast cannot be domesticated and continues to be untameable, it is let back into the wild. That’s why certain animals, like a lion, cannot be domesticated because it is untameable.
So in like manner, only Jesus, who is God as the Father and the Spirit, and who comes from the Triune Godhead, is man’s doorway into the Tri-Personal Love-Being of God. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Now we can understand why Jesus was emphatic about what He said about Himself – why He had to come, be born a human, be fully God and fully human, live, die, and be resurrected so man can be unified to God forever – through no other way, but in and through Jesus.
That is why the Messiah came. That is why it had to be Jesus. That is why Jesus was born. That is why, in the true spirit of Christmas, we have much more than we realize to rejoice over. As I intimated, the message of His death seems to dominate the airwaves, that is ‘redemption’ – but the ‘incarnation’ is the doorway to ‘redemption.’ If there is no ‘incarnation’ (image and likeness, Immanuel), there is no ‘redemption.’
We will answer the how and when of God’s story about man as it’s seen through the birth of Christ in parts two and three. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to write me in the space provided below, or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until we meet again in my next post, may the blessing of the God who ceaselessly expresses Himself in His dependable Triune Love, be with you today and give you strength for authentic Triune Living as a Bula man-river.*
Kiang, (Your Servant in Christ)
All scriptures are taken from the NIV Version 2011, unless stated otherwise.