His death was the second of two friends my age that I endured in less than six months. To be honest, I'm not just sad, but also mad and perplexed at why God would allow this to happen to my two friends, their wives, and their families. I still love God. I believe in God's goodness. I trust in my reunion with my friends in the presence of Jesus at his coming. But, death stinks when it intrudes and takes people — one healthy and one not, but both so vital and full of ideas, so needed by those they love and to whom they ministered. That's why I believe in the importance of pushing past the glitz of the season and remembering the gritty grace of the manger and the glory of God incarnate in a helpless baby who came to be one of us!
How can God know what it is like to face what we face?
How can he feel the burdens we bear?
Yes, I believe that God knows all things, but how can God experientially know just how hard life can sometimes be for us? After all, he’s God, and so the future isn't in doubt for him like it feels for us. He knows all things and can do all things; so how can he struggle with the frustration, helplessness, and uncertainty we feel in times of grief, loss, and tragedy? We are limited. We are mortal. Sometimes life and faith are hard because we don’t know what God knows. We can’t see around the corner of our dilemmas as he can. Yes, I know God knows all things, but how can he struggle with the emotions the way we do?
I don’t know if you have ever thought such things, but many people who have talked with us in their times of tragedy and loss have voiced them, or at least something similar to them. That’s what make’s Jesus' birth so important. As James says in today’s video, “God, through Jesus Christ, became one of us!”
Jesus’ birth was an explosive event politically when he was born. We will cover some of the dynamics of why it was such an explosive event in coming weeks. But today, we want to settle into the volatile truth that James expresses in the video: “God, through Jesus Christ, became one of us!” This truth is the foundation of "Finding our Story in God’s Story." Since we could not ascend to God and be with God as one like God, God came to us as one of us. He bent history, both human history and "HIStory" to find us so that we could find life in him.
Matthew knew all the names and titles of Jesus. So, he refers to Jesus at the beginning of his gospel story using these terms and titles:
- Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham (Matthew 1:1).
- Jesus the Messiah (Matthew 1:16-17).
- A son (Matthew 1:21).
- Jesus who will save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).
- King of the Jews (Matthew 2:2).
- The Shepherd of God's people (Matthew 2:6).
- Ruler of the Jewish people (Matthew 2:6).
- My (God’s) son — a fulfillment of prophecy (Matthew 2:15).
- A Nazarene — a fulfillment of prophecy (Matthew 2:23).
Matthew had an exalted understanding of Jesus’ identity. He wants us to know that Jesus fulfills all of the prophetic expectations of the Messiah.
Matthew emphasized that Jesus entered our world as "God with us" by referring to Jesus as Immanuel. Matthew also wants us to know that Jesus is God as one of us. Near the very beginning of his gospel story, Matthew refers to Jesus as “the child” (Matthew 2:8, 9, 11, 13, 14, 20, 21 — Note that in verses 13 and 20, the words occur twice.). That is Matthew’s way of reminding us that when God chose to join us in our world, he came as a helpless and vulnerable child. He needed parents to love, protect, and train him. Such a thought almost seems blasphemous, yet it is the specific emphasis of God’s inspired writer! God didn’t come to our world as a heavenly tourist with special arrangements to keep him safe and to give him special treatment. He entered our world through human birth so that we could share in the promise of his story through new birth (John 1:9-13; John 3:3-7).
What difference does this truth make in the grit of day-to-day life? Well, in a week beginning with heartbreak and physical loss for us, we can say with certainty that God becoming human in Jesus changes everything. We know that God feels our hurt and shares our sorrow. He understands our confusion, frustration, and loss. And, he knows this from his human experience as well as his omnipotence. Even now, Jesus is at the Father's right hand communicating our feelings to the Father as one who is always interceding for us (Hebrews 7:25; Hebrews 2:14-18; Hebrews 4:14-16). At the same time, the Holy Spirit takes the emotions we cannot verbalize and brings them to the Father fully expressed in all their emotional and inutterable depth as he "intercedes for us through wordless groans" (Romans 8:26-27).
The story we celebrate at Christmas can get lost in the sentimentality and sweetness of the season. However, the story of God becoming one of us in Jesus is made up of the grit, threats, and fear of the real world. God entered this world in Jesus to be with us and one of us so that we can be with him and one of his. Nothing matters more than that when our lives face the stark realities of our mortality. Jesus being "the child" in Matthew's gospel means we can be God's children, forever!
To download a guide for discussion with the accompanying video, please go to James' Story of Redemption Films site.
Phil's long-time friend, Dr. Ron Beasley died suddenly of a stroke. Ron was a counselor, a minister, an incredible dad, and grandfather. He cared about broken people. He was a triathlete. A daily journaler for thirty-six years. A man of discipline and compassion.
Ironically, when Phil originally wrote this post to go with James' video, he had just lost another close friend, Brad Smith — see the preface to the post. Two close friends in three months. Two empty places at Christmas. Two reasons to thank Jesus for coming to give us an answer to death and a reminder that he knows how we feel: not because he is God, but because he has been one of us!
This article is dedicated to Ron and Brad with deep appreciation to the Lord they love and with whom they share glory. Phil, along with those who knew them, will miss them until our faith becomes sight and we are reunited together with our older brother, Jesus. Even so, dear brothers, it is well with my soul until we meet in Jesus' sweet and mighty presence.