Restored in Christ
Our world and our lives are broken by sin and its consequences. It is precisely for this reason that Jesus entered into our broken world to bring healing, forgiveness and salvation through his suffering and death upon the cross. Through this, we are restored in Christ. Week by week in Lent, we will focus on how we are restored in Christ through the redeeming work of Christ.
When you think about the writings of the Apostle Paul, what do you think of? Maybe what you think about when you think about Paul’s writings is what he wrote about love. Wait, isn’t John the one that writes about love—“God is love?” Paul writes quite a bit about love—and in more places than in 1 Corinthians 13.
When Paul writes about love, he doesn’t write about it as an abstract (cue your The Princess Bride memories). Paul doesn’t write about it romantically—he writes about the love that begins in God’s heart for us and shows itself in Christ. When Paul writes about “love” he generally talks about what it does (or doesn’t do). Love is active.
Listen to Romans 12: “Let love be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good. Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lack diligence in zeal; be fervent in the Spirit; serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality.” He writes these words to explain what living our lives as “living sacrifices” looks like. It looks like a “Jesus-shaped” life. A life Jesus has shaped and is shaping.
When Paul Writes about “love” he generally talks about what it does (or doesn’t do).
We’ve been talking since the beginning of January about our four mission “directions” for 2019. One of those focuses on building or rebuilding the caring networks within our congregation. This year, we’re going to look at tending the garden of our small groups and adding a couple of other ways we can care for one another. The “Jesus-shaped” life has two foci—to give glory to God and to serve/love our neighbor in Jesus’ love.
February is a month on the calendar we think about love. The first Sunday in February focuses on 1 Corinthians 13. (Do you think maybe God was planning ahead?) I would like to gather some folks together to care for our members of our faith community. So, I’d like to gather those interested in serving as an Evangelism Team—following up with visitors to our worship services and events and, perhaps, our interested preschool families—to meet after the second service on Sunday, February 24 in the Fellowship Hall to get things started.
I’d also like to gather those folks interested in learning how to support people going through difficult times—let’s call it the Empathy Team for the time being. These folks would get some training to lend emotional support but also would provide other kinds of support (maybe meals when someone goes into the hospital, etc.). The organizational meeting of the Empathy Team will be Wednesday, February 27 at 7pm in the Fellowship Hall.
God is already working through some of you to be a blessing to our visitors and our hurting folks. Let’s ask Him to bless our efforts to pull it together and love one another.
Joy in the journey,
Pastor Jeff Shearier
We do plenty of counting this time of year. Children count how many of those presents lie colorfully wrapped beneath the evergreen tree. Stores count profits. And surveying the hams, pecan pies, and oceans of eggnog lavished before us, we all try not to count calories.
But there’s also a strange, unexpected number that looms in the background of Christmas. It seems radically out of place. Yet there it is, skulking beyond the glittering lights and tinseled trees. It’s the number 666, the mark of the beast.
If there’s a time of year to grasp the significance of this number, it’s now. Because the birth of Jesus casts light on the dark meaning of 666. And, most importantly, the birth of God’s Son is the death of that number’s power over us.
“When Jesus is born, God puts into motion his strange, beloved math. “
In Revelation 13, John says that “the number of the beast” is “the number of a man; and his number is 666,” (v. 18). Throughout history, this number has been identified with everyone from the Roman emperor Nero to…well, choose your favorite. But 666 is not the number of a particular man. It’s the number of mankind, of humanity—a fallen and failing humanity that reflects the twisted image of the idolatrous beast rather than the image of God.
Here’s what I mean: throughout Revelation, we encounter recurring sevens. Seven is God’s number. It refers to completeness, perfection, totality. The Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is 777, if you will.
But there’s also an unholy trinity, aping the true God. It’s the unholy trinity of the dragon (Revelation 12), the beast from the sea (13:1-10), and the beast from the earth (13:11-18). Their number is 6 because it falls short of 7. It lags behind. It’s lacking. It symbolizes earthly imperfection. As G. K. Beale notes, “The repetition of six three times indicates the completeness of sinful incompleteness found in the beast. The beast epitomizes imperfection, while appearing to achieve divine perfection,” (We Become What We Worship, 262).
But 666 is also fallen humanity’s number. All those who worship untrue gods, who fear and love and trust in things more than the Lord, bear the number 666. They mirror the not-perfect, failing gods they worship. They image in their lives, thoughts, words, and actions the very imperfection, incompleteness, and darkened image of the gods whom they adore.
The number 666 encapsulates everything anti-God in the world and in idolatrous human hearts.
You might be thinking, “OK, but what does this have to do with Christmas?” Everything, that’s what. When Jesus is born, God puts into motion his strange, beloved math. He becomes his own image. He who crafted humanity in his own image and likeness becomes a human himself. The Son of the Father, who is “the image of the invisible God” becomes the Son of Mary, too (Col 1:15). God becomes man. The Creator a creature. When we see Jesus, we see the fullness of God made manifest (1:19). As Jesus tells Philip, “He who has seen me has seen the Father,” (John 14:9).
And, when we see Jesus, we see our humanity made perfect. That little baby, is the only perfect, complete, and flawless human ever born into this world. Christ is the perfect 7 born into a world of imperfect 6’s:
—the 6 of our twisted, idolatrous hearts meets the 7 of his heart wholly devoted to his Father.
—the 6 of our dirty shame meets the 7 of his glorious joy.
—the 6 of our far-from-perfect, incomplete, shattered lives meets the 7 of his divine and human perfection.
—the 6 of the gods of this world meet the 7 of the God-made-man who comes to overthrow them.
Our 777-God so loved this 666-world that he sent his Son to work his strange Christmas math of grace and mercy. What we lacked, he added. Where we were incomplete, he completed us. Where we were falling and failing and falsely worshipping in our 666 lives, Jesus came to add his beloved one to our lives, to bring us into the 777 life of the Holy Trinity.
The Father’s math at Christmas is simple and profound: in this 1 child, 1 Savior, 1 perfect human, he takes the 6 of our lives and adds 1 Jesus to them. We become the 7 that mirrors him. As we kneel before the manger, we leave behind the 6 of idolatry to enter the 7 of true worship. We are made whole, the humans the Lord wants us to be, in this perfect human who draws us into the 777 life of the Trinity.
In Christ, gone is the mark of the beast, emblazoned on our foreheads (Rev 13:16), to be replaced by the name of our Father, written “on our foreheads” (Rev 14:1). We are tattooed as God’s own, those who bear his name, his number, his zealous and vivifying love. That is God’s Christmas math, who deep-sixes all evil and idolatry in his Son, to usher us into the 777 of his divine and undying life.
(Adapted from Chad Bird’s December 13, 2018 article, “THE NUMBER 666 AND GOD’S CHRISTMAS MATH”)
The Mission of Bethlehem Lutheran Church and Preschool is: Building the family of God through relationship with Jesus Christ.
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