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Volume 7, Issue 1: Thema

Joy to the World

Douglas Wilson

The Lord Jesus Christ was called Immanuel by the prophet Isaiah, and that name means God with us . These three words together contain depths which no mortal mind can really understand. Proud reason never enjoys the sensation of coming to the end of its tether. God with us ? But God has revealed this truth to mankind, and we are required to meditate on it. Good food for sinful men lies here, but we must take it as it has been prepared. The good Lord has invited sinful mankind to dine, but never to cook. When we eat what He has prepared, it is a joyful feast.

At the birth of Christ, the angel gave the shepherds "good tidings of great joy . . ." (Lk. 2:10). Great joy has always been a hallmark of real Christianity. Peter affirms this: "Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory . . ." (1 Pet. 1:8) . Frankly, the joy many nominal Christians feel is joy expressible, not joy inexpressible, and certainly could not be described as full of glory. But you are not invited by Christ to nominal Christianity, that is, a bland salvation, or a tepid justification. At the heart of the Christian message is joy joy to the world, joy that is fierce, joy that can't change the subject.
This message of great joy is for all people (Luke 2:10). This is not truth for a select few. The gospel message is not the password into a mystical tiny band of true believers. Jesus did not come into the world to be the founder of some backwater mystery cult. We must understand that the entire world is the intended recipient of God's redemptive blessing. The message is for the world; Jesus came for the world, and consequently, there is joy to the world . He did not come for the Jews alone. He came and suffered and died for all men. But still less did He come to bring the possibility of joy; He came to bring joy . He did not come with potential salvation for the world; He came with salvation for the world. He came to accomplish this salvation, and He has done so. In this planet of darkness, a great river of light has sprung forth. That light has now come by you, and is flowing right next to your feet. And the blessing will continue to flow on, a great, growing inexorable river, until it engulfs all peoples, tribes, and nations in the joy of Christ. And if God is merciful, it will engulf you as well.
The Sins of His People
The river has a fountainhead. The reason for our joy is found in the identity of the Christ as Lord , and the mission of the Christ as Savior (Luke 2:11). The angel said that He was a Savior, but whom does He save? And from what? The answer to these questions is found when the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph and told him to give the name Jesus to the unborn child. "And she shall bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21). So whom shall He save? He will save His people . And from what shall He save them? He will save them from their sins .
But what is sin? The Bible gives us a complete and sufficient answer. "Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness" (1 John 3:4). It is a hard definition, at least when we see it without the devil's varnish. God, our Creator, has the absolute authority to dictate to us the terms and conditions of our lives. Sin is nothing more or less than the refusal to recognize and submit to that authority in any area.
Through His death Christ saves His people from lawlessness. They are saved, first, from the lawlessness itself. When Christ saves a man, that twisted man dies , and a new man replaces him"if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new" (2 Cor. 5:17). He is saved, secondly, from the penalty connected to his previous lawlessness. That penalty was death . Adam was told that the day he ate of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, he would surely die . Ezekiel tells us that the soul that sins shall die . Paul states, unambiguously, that the wages of sin is death . But in saving His people, God does not waive the penalty of death. Christ died as the covenant head of His church, and paid the penalty for their sins in full.
Is This True?
We must not ask what is true. If we want the biblical answer, we must ask who is the truth. In Scripture, truth is not an abstraction. Truth is real; truth lives, and truth has a Name. Autonomous men in all ages have always sought to ignore this. Pilate cynically asked, "What is truth?" when the living embodiment of Truth was standing right in front of him. How often this happens! Blind men stare at the truth in front of them, say they see no truth, and then go on to crucify it.
The Eternal Word of God, the Eternal Truth, in obedience to His Father, took on human flesh. We Christians call this the Incarnation . There was a day when Truth came into the world; Truth has a birthday . "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us . . ." (John 1:14). In the first verse of that chapter John says the Word was God. And then he says here the Word took on flesh. We must think about this. What did John mean by Word , and what did he mean by flesh ?
This divine Word truly took on flesh; it was no apparition. Consider the reality of what Christ's first followers saw. They heard Him; He spoke to them. They saw Him; His body reflected light. They touched Him; He was no ghost. And what was it they heard, and saw, and touched? It was that which was from the beginning; it was the Word of life. And this Word of life, this Eternal Truth, was visible , in just the same way that a table, tree, or you are. So this baby, this child, this man, was God enfleshed . The infinite put on finitude, and lost nothing . The immortal one put on mortality, and purchased a people for Himself. The invisible God shows Himself to us in His visible image, Jesus Christ, the exact representation of His being.
If Jesus was only a man, He was not the apostle of God. And if He was only God, He was not the High Priest we needed. Thus it is that the God/Man is our Savior; only He is strong to save. And we should remember the last sentence of 1 John 1:4"And these things we write to you that your joy may be full." There is that result again joy .
What Must We Think? What Must We Do?
There will always be those who want to avoid such great questions. But like a blind man who falls in the ditch, it doesn't much matter what side of the road the ditch is on. And if you stay on the road, it may be instructive to listen to these ditch-bound guides as they debate the relative merits and advantages of each ditch.
One group says that we should be more practical. Why all this preaching about doctrinal and theological things? Why can't we just have a simple inspirational message? The answer of the Bible to this objection is plainsimple messages are false . Simple messages are for those who have itching ears. "Peace, peace," is a simple message, but the prophet Jeremiah tells us there is no peace. Some men in the New Testament said that a man had to be circumcised to be saved. That is simple enoughsimple enough for God to damn it.
Our race fell in Adam. The reality of this problem confronts us everywhere. A glance at a newspaper is more than enough to confirm man's sinfulness. But the original source of the problem, Adam, and our relationship to him, is not at all simple to comprehend. Why were we born with a bent toward sin, just because of what he did? The infinite Word of God took on human flesh, and walked around in our midst. This is complicated doctrine which the wisdom of this world calls foolishness. But what does God command us to see? There, look Infinitude in a manger born to be Infinitude on the cross. There is only one sense in which this message is simple. It is simple to declare, and because it is the power of God to salvation, it is simple to believe. But in no way is it simple to understand . Those who demand a message simple to understand are still worshipping their idols.
But let us not forget the group in the other ditch. They want to avoid practical obedience. They are willing to talk theology and doctrine. They are willing to study it for years. They are willing to take degrees in it and establish institutions to grant degrees in it. But are they willing to live what they profess? Certainly worth talking about!
True doctrine properly received brings joy . Such doctrine imitated brings humility . But how can we receive and imitate a doctrine? Because doctrine is truth, and the Truth is the Lord Jesus Christ, we must receive Him , as the One who reveals the Father. We are to receive Him , our only hope of salvation.
An Invitation
But this, a message of consternation and dismay, can be the foundation of a great and eternal joy. How so? There was born that day in the city of David a Savior . For those still in sin and blindness, there is hope born in Bethlehem. For those who cling to carnal reasoning, there is an infinite Savior, there , in the feeding trough. But this Savior is not an abstract proposition; He is a Person, and you must come to Him . So come, in your mind, to Bethlehem. Like the wise men you bring something, but unlike them, the gifts you bear are not at all precious. Instead of gold, you bring the filth of your own corruptions. Instead of frankincense, you bring a life of pride and self-centeredness. Instead of myrrh, you bring your desperation and sorrow. You come as a supplicant and not as a donor.
Now, look on that baby, unable to speakthe Eternal Word, unable to speak. Now look to Mary. She was told, at the very start, that her heart would be pierced through with many sorrows. You know, after the fact, what those sorrows involved. Through God's foreordained and perfect plan, a horrible crucifixion was accomplished by wicked men. You think of that death, which was a death for sinners, and you look down at your filthy, grimy hands. Think again about the infant Christ; the child is mortal . There is breath in his nostrils, there is movement in His limbs. This child, because He is a child, is capable of dying. And then it becomes clearHe was born to die. He was prepared to do His Father's will, which happened to be His own murder, predestined before the origin of time.
For those who understand the Word of God, something has happened. If your heart has been touched by the Spirit of God, you will call upon the Lord. You will understand, for the first time, that the great joy promised to the shepherds is a particular kind of joy. It is the joy that comes from forgiveness and cannot exist without a prior misery and desperation.
Now look around that feeding trough. It may have been a stable or a courtyardwe don't really know. But whatever it was, it wasn't much. A newborn infant, lying in a feedbox, in an obscure jerkwater town, two thousand years ago. But because it wasn't much, it is an appropriate place for a sinner to kneel and pray.

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