Shabbat, December 24, 2016
God does incarnation, because He loves us … so much, because He wants us to trust Him enough … to identify with Him as He identifies with us … totally, and because that’s how the world will know He loves us. V’eemru? (And let us say?)
God didn’t do it for the trees people chop down, nor for the shopping malls people hustle into. People wave at me and say, “Ho, ho, ho!” But God didn’t become a big jolly fellow in a red suit.
Disclaimer: I didn’t choose this topic because tonight is Christmas Eve (as Marty Goetz pronounces it) and also the first night of Chanukah. Rather, on Monday I went out for a prayer walk and prayed that the Ruach would tell me the message He wanted to share with you, and that small voice said, distinctly though not audibly, talk about the incarnation. When I pressed further, He immediately gave me the outline of this talk, which I have already shared with you, in my opening sentence.
I am aware that some of you are averse to certain customs, which may or may have pagan origins. Well, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were named after Norse gods, so let’s not observe those days! Brothers and sisters, please don’t call today Saturday, because Saturn was a Roman god! Seriously. Let’s call this day Shabbat, at least among us and anyone who knows what the Sabbath is. V’eemru?
I thank God for Shabbat and for every chag or festival HaShem has ordained for us in Scripture. Yet as Romans 14:5 says, “ One person esteems one day over another while another judges every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.” V’eemru? End of disclaimer!
So why did HaShem want me to talk about incarnation? Because He loves us, His creation… so much! Ben-Elohim emptied Himself and took on the form of a slave, human flesh, even a helpless infant. He did it, because He loves … you, every part of you, spirit, soul and body… even your toes.
He loves His creation, all of it, every atom and every quirky quark and every warbling sparrow and every blade of grass, and every child, from the moment he/she is conceived (and even before). If God loves the grass and the quirky quarks that are burned up by quadrillions of quarks from the sun, if God loves the sparrows that were sold in Galilean markets, two for a penny, how much more does He care for you, whom He has clothed in the same sort of flesh in which He has clothed Himself?
David Harwood spoke to us a couple of weeks ago about God’s true love for us. (Wasn’t David good? How many of thought so? If any of you missed it, or you need a re-fill, you can still check out Dr. Michael Brown’s interview of David—I have it on my Facebook page,
or read his book.
David starts in his quiet spoken manner, but when it comes to the love of God, he soon waxes warm, so fervently, for hours, and that’s scratching the surface of what David could say about God’s love, His true love for each of us, more than we can comprehend. But we should try … to comprehend!
Or we should pray that we would. In Ephesians 3:17, Paul prays that you all may “be rooted and grounded” in God’s love—“rooted and grounded,” that’s pretty down to earth and physical, isn’t it?
Yes, God wants us to have roots that stretch out to living water, so that you would “not be anxious in a year of drought nor [ever] cease to yield fruit” (Jeremiah 17:8).
In Ephesians 3:18, Paul keeps on praying, that you all may “grasp … what is the width and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Messiah, which surpasses knowledge….”
Now you may think, who could possibly grasp, let alone comprehend the full dimensions of God or His surpassing love? But dearly beloved, please do don’t bail out on this prayer!
Not today…. It’s… Shabbat! Not tomorrow… It’s … Hanukkah!
At the end of David’s afternoon talk in my living room, when the man had spent himself pouring out God’s love for us, I made an observation. Besides all our hang-ups—most of us are still like Adam and Eve cowering in shame in their fig leaves—most of our theologians have imbibed pagan, Greek philosophical ideas about God. Plato and other Greek philosophers had an idea about the One god, the god of ideas and intelligence.
Paula Fredrickson (whom we recently read in a Clergy Colloquy of the Institute of Jewish-Christian Understanding) observes, “For Plato, the One— purely transcendent and immaterial— is superior to and precedes the many (the material world).”Sin: The Early History of an Idea (p. 71).
This purely transcendent idea of God (who really only exists among the ideal ideas) contrasts with the God of the Bible, who is rooted and grounded in His passionate love for humanity and especially this “peculiar people” Israel, whom He claims as his treasure and the apple of His eye.
Fredrickson: “The God of Yeshua and Paul was emphatically, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the God of Jewish history; the God of Israel. The high god of these Gentile theologians, by contrast, was the non-ethnic, non– historically active, radically transcendent deity of philosophy” (96-97).
Ideas about the “high god” from Greek philosophy strongly influenced many if not most theologians (whether Jewish, such as Philo or Maimonides, or Christian, such as Augustine), or Moslem. For the theologians, the high God is far above and beyond our corrupt existence, so that the only way He can interact with us is through intermediaries, such as angels, prophets or even the Logos.
OK, I admit I may be sounding like an old professor…. Are you following me?
But what about what HaShem says in Isaiah 55:8-9? “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways.”
It is a declaration of Adonai. “For as the heavens are higher than earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”
What do you think? Does Isaiah agree with Plato, Augustine and Maimonides? I’ve heard some of you… admit it, you also think, God is so high above us, who could possibly understand His thoughts? And He does say so, doesn’t he? Well?
However, bear in mind that Isaiah’s scroll was written down long before Plato and the theologians. Let’s look at the context of these verses, in Isaiah 55. In v. 1, He appeals to anyone who is thirsty, come and drink. Thirst is a rather physical phenomenon. Then in v.3, He says, “Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, so that your soul may live.”
Why would God want us to incline our ears and listen if His thoughts are so much higher than ours that we wouldn’t comprehend them anyhow? But in fact, God does want His people to listen (the Bible says so hundreds of time), and He does want us to understand His thoughts—which are in His Word. V’eemru?
Verse 7 explains who cannot comprehend his thoughts and why:
“Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous one his thoughts…” The wicked and the unrighteous one, who wanders off down the wrong way with his own thoughts, to Him HaShem says, “My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” Yet if even a wicked one would return to HaShem, then He will abundantly have compassion on Him.
Do you know how much compassion HaShem has for you, how much He longs to pardon you? Our God is not so far off that we cannot know Him; rather, He is Immanuel who draws near us.
V’eemru? He has shared His thoughts and His passions with us, in His word and by His Ruach, so that we might know and love Him, so that we might walk with Him as Adam and Eve in the cool of Gan Eden, and as His disciples did along the lake of Kinneret and the hillsides of Galilee.
Come, He beckons us, “incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, so that your soul may live.”
God does incarnation—becomes Immanuel/God with us—so that we know how much He loves us, because He wants us to trust Him, enough to identify with Him as He identifies with us.
So Hebrews 4:14 says, “We have a great Kohen Gadol who has passed through the heavens….” The heavens are the realm of God and His angelic court—far above and beyond human existence, where human flesh should fear to tread, right?
Yet Yeshua Ben-Elohim (the Son of God) has trodden there, in feet stained with His blood. Yeshua is both fully God (pure Spirit) and fully man (flesh and blood), both on earth and in heaven. V’eemru?
Moreover, Yeshua is able to sympathize with our weakness, because He has experienced our weakness in person. He experienced what it’s like to be a child, so He loves children. V’eemru?
As the son and apprentice of a carpenter, He knows what it’s like to hold a hammer in His hand —so guys like Tim and Scott, John and Allen can relate to Him. Right, guys? And Yeshua also knows how it feels like when a hammer pounds a nail into His flesh. V’eemru? Yes, He knows our pains, and He came to bear them away.
When Yeshua saw Miriam weeping for her deceased brother, He was deeply troubled, groaning in spirit and greatly troubled, so much so that He wept, openly. These were not a few little tears quickly wiped way—many bystanders saw His tears and heard his weeping, and commented.
His compassion for Miriam and Martha was total. So is His compassion for you, when you are grieving, struggling with pain, whether it be physical or emotional, or both. V’eemru?
Yes, He is able to sympathize with our weakness, because He has totally identified with us, as human. Moreover, there is no one who understands and has greater empathy for you than Yeshua—since, not only is He fully human, He is fully God. The One who created you knows you better than anyone else, better than you know yourself. Yeshua knew the thoughts of men’s hearts, even when they thought the thoughts of their hearts were secret and hence fuzzy and not so real. Yet our thoughts are real to Him—now don’t be frightened about that, for He is able to sympathize.
Do you trust Yeshua with your thoughts? You may as well, since He already knows. Do you trust Yeshua with your life? You may as well, since He created You, and He came into the world to redeem You, so that He would not have to condemn you.
So do you trust Him? Since He gave Himself up for you, are you willing to stand with Him, for Him? Do you trust Him enough to follow Him? Do you trust Him enough to listen to Him, attentively? Do you trust Him enough to obey Him? Do you trust Him enough to die for Him?
God does incarnation because that’s how the world will know He loves us. He wants people to know. But there’s been a problem ever since, well, ever since God began revealing Himself to human beings: If God is good and loves us so much, how come bad things seem to happen to decent people? Why is there so much pain and trouble in this world? Where was God in the Holocaust? The gap between God and calamity seems so wide that people—especially Jews— dare not cross it.
Yet such questions are not new. You can find them in the pages of the Bible, over and over again, in the cries of Job and David, the prophets and Messiah Yeshua Himself:
Job 13:24, “Why do you hide your face and consider me your enemy?”
Psalm 10:1-4 “O Lord, why do you stand so far away? Why do you hide when I am in trouble?”
Habakkuk 1:2 (1), “How long, LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save.”
Psalm 22:2(1), which Yeshua quoted from the cross, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”
These are hard questions. Nowhere in the Bible does God provide glib answers. God answers Job’s tough questions with even tougher questions. That was good enough for Job.
God answers David with His presence, assurance and renewed confidence… which worked for David, at least until the next challenge, the next battle. Perhaps that’s why Psalms records David asking such questions many times. Can you relate? You’re supposed to….
God answers Habakkuk’s question about injustice by announcing that He would send the Babylonians to bring an end to Israel’s injustice. Habakkuk doesn’t like that answer so much! That prompts him to ask another question. In the end (the last verse of his book), the answer that satisfies Habakkuk — as with Job and David—peace with God and himself: “Adonai my Lord, is my strength. He has made my feet like a deer’s, and will make me walk on my high places.”
Yeshua cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” He was not just experiencing the pain of the nails, but the utter devastation of our iniquities and the humiliation of our sins, which separate us from God and His love.
Yet Yeshua also knew (and expects us to know) the rest of Psalm 22.
Verse 3,4 (5) “In You our fathers put their trust. They trusted, and You delivered them. They cried to you and were delivered.”
Verse 23 (22), “I will declare Your Name to my brothers. I will praise You amid the congregation.”
And finally, verse 32 (31), “They will come and declare His righteousness to a people yet to be born — because He has done it!”
Even in the midst of His terrible suffering, Yeshua was confident in the love of God our Father. Moreover, He showed this love to John and His mother whom He united as spiritual family, and when He prayed to the Father to forgive all who have ever sinned against Him.
The world needs to know the love of God. V’eemru? There is no better way for them to know, than through the love He showed by becoming incarnate and by our co-identification with Him in love.
There’s no denying the love He reveals to us by becoming a helpless infant—that’s the story people around us need to hear at this time, rather than “Twas The Night Before Christmas.” V’eemru?
People also need to hear about the mercy that moved Him to touch the untouchable man, about the compassion that strengthened the faith of the hemorrhaging woman, about the love that assured the thief on a cross next to Him that they would be together in paradise.
Let’s tell these stories, and your own stories, to those around us, so they may know His love. V’eemru?
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Scripture references are mostly from The Tree of Life Version (TLV) though occasionally other versions. Verse citations provide Jewish numbering, with Christian numbering in parentheses.