friends and enemies

At the time when Pilate and Herod made friends, there was an astonishing contrast between the united front of the enemies of Jesus and the complete disarray of his friends. (‘And the same day Pilate and Herod were made friends together: for before they were at enmity between themselves,’ Luke 23: 12.)

At this time, the kings and princes of the earth were combining and conspiring against the Lord’s Anointed. Judas betrayed him to an armed squad of chief priests, captains of the temple, and elders. The whole multitude of the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes took him to Pilate. Herod and his men of war set him at nought and mocked him. The people all shouted together that he should be crucified. All these groups coalesced in their desire to have Jesus destroyed. Whatever normally divided them, they now discovered a common cause in wanting rid of him.

Meanwhile, Jesus stood alone. The disciples had fled and scattered. Their perplexity and confusion must have been extreme – they had trusted that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel, and that now seemed impossible. It must have been incomprehensible, not to mention how the circumstances were so shocking and so humiliating. Their Saviour was being put to death as if he was a common criminal, and who could fathom what that would mean for the trustworthiness of God or their soul’s salvation.

But the reality of the whole situation was nothing like how it appeared on the surface. On the one hand, the isolation of Jesus’ followers was quite illusory. In fact, this was the one time when their oneness and unity was most starkly real. Although Jesus was standing alone, he was standing for them all. They were all gathered up together in him, and taking them as a most complete whole he was caring for them, acting for them, and holding them completely safe. He looked, and there was none to help, and he wondered that there was none to uphold – therefore his own arm brought salvation. He died for us, they would later realise. It was one for the many. As he was their covenant representative, the interests of these many, their pasts, their sins, their futures, their souls’ salvation, were all condensed and concentrated into one burden that he carried alone, and everything for them depended on how he would succeed in what happened on the cross.

And on the cross, on their behalf, he was successful – a conqueror, victorious. Not just that he suffered voluntarily (although there is something impressive about voluntary suffering), and not just that he complied with the Father’s will and fulfilled all the prophecies about himself. He was victorious on the cross in the sense that he actually achieved what he had to do, and really defeated his and his people’s enemies. He actually made atonement, he actually propitiated the wrath of God and actually expiated their sins. He really and truly spoiled principalities and powers, triumphing over them in his cross. All he did was for his people – all those innumerable individuals collected together and considered as lined up behind him, sheltering under his care, carried on his strong shoulders, united to him, identified as one with him.

Meanwhile, the united front of his enemies was itself a facade. Although they all had in common an inveterate hostility to God, they each took their own way of expressing it, and combined with the others only to the extent that it suited their own selfish ends. Everyone on the broad way carves out their own track to walk in, and the root cause of their befriending any fellow travellers is never honestly altruistic. Although it is a fact that they too have their own covenant representative in Adam, this is something they grudge against and resent – they would disown their first father if they could, so as to stand on their own two feet and speak in their own defence, no matter how impotent and incompetent they are to do so. This all-consuming impulse to individualism means that they accept neither their own covenant representative, Adam, nor the only other possible covenant representative, Christ. In spite of Christ being a fully qualified Saviour who invariably saves to the uttermost, it’s the hardest thing of all for a sinner to entrust themselves to him – the most entrenched position of the sinner’s heart is their determined resistance against giving up their autonomy to anyone else on the question of their soul’s salvation, their wilful insistence on staying responsible for their own eternal destiny, even though the strategy is suicidal.

So although a Pilate and a Herod may temporarily join forces to reject the Lord and his Anointed, there is ultimately no more lonely place than to stand in opposition to Jesus. In the confrontation between individual me and the holy God, there is no question but that things are hopeless for that sinful puny I – and that that hopelessness persists however many other individuals also choose to array themselves against him. The only thing that guarantees a lasting and honourable solidarity, or meaningful acceptance, belonging, togetherness, is oneness with Christ – it’s the oneness of his people in Jesus that overrides all their differences, and makes it certain that they all will be forgiven and kept eternally safe. It’s because he lives, that they will live also.

loved for who you are

I read an article recently (ish, a couple of weeks ago) which wound up with the claim that Christianity was a religion where you can be loved and wanted simply for who you are, not for what you achieve.

This was one of Giles Fraser’s columns in the Guardian, and it made some very worthwhile points. It was helpful in particular where he targeted the misguidedness of a perennially shallow view of religion, which sees failure in anything that doesn’t meet materialistic and grandiose metrics of worldly success (‘… a successful priest ought to be hated rather than feted’). This is as much a necessary rebuke to Christians besotted with big visions and seduced by what Luther diagnosed as a ‘theology of glory’ instead of the ‘theology of the cross’ as a it is a courageous defence against misdirected criticisms from outwith Christianity.

But although it’s right to lift the burden of the pressure to do something or achieve something to earn favour and acceptance, I couldn’t help feeling that the point is being missed somewhat by shifting the burden onto ‘who you are’ or ‘who I am’ as the alternative basis of acceptance.

Of course, there is a lot to be said for the ‘who you are’ principle as a principle for how we should treat each other. None of us has the right to despise anyone for being unsuccessful, or a failure. No matter how weak, needy, disadvantaged, uncool, underwhelming, and unimpressive a person may be, they have intrinsic worth and dignity as a human being – certainly made in God’s image and sometimes also new-made in Christ’s – which means they should be accepted and valued just for being. It’s not what my neighbour does or what they have or what they’ve done or what they’ve failed to do that conditions the love I owe to them, but simply the fact that they are my neighbour, my fellow human being. This principle cuts across age, gender, race, class, disability, nationality, violations of the first commandment, violations of the seventh commandment, and any other way or combination of ways we have of classifying ourselves as human beings.

But that’s a principle for us as we relate to each other, all on a par as we are as the fallen sons and daughters of Adam, needing to subdue the worst excesses of our fallenness to make life on the earth we share bearable. It isn’t something that binds God. 

How could God, in fact, love us for who we are? What are we, after all? if not guilty, unkind, self-indulgent, gossiping, grudge bearing, grasping sinners. And that’s just for starters – before you even mention godless, unrepentant, disbelieving, and disobedient. So if that’s what we are, unreconstructed walking exhibits of instinctive selfishness and innate hypocrisy, we’re thoroughly unlovely, including in the eyes of the God of love.

The secret of Christianity, its unique and counterintuitive core, is Christ for us. It’s not that God loves us for who we are, but that he loves us for who Christ is. Christ deserves all the love God has to give. It’s totally obvious and right and proper that God would love Christ, at the same time and for the same reason as he is angry with sinners and opposed to their sins. This is why it matters to be a Christian – a follower of Christ – to be identified with Christ, one with Christ, devoted to Christ – to renounce our selves in repentance and to commit ourselves to him in faith.

As far as God is concerned, we stand or fall entirely on our relationship to Christ. Haven’t we ever prayed, ‘For Jesus’ sake, amen’? This is why we have to. It has to be for Christ’s sake. If we won’t have anything to do with Christ, God will certainly never love us savingly for who we are. But if he finds us in Christ, he loves us and accepts us and values us as completely as he does Christ, who is altogether lovely.

books for kids

image

I’ve reached that stage in life where several of my friends seem to have kids turning 8, 9, 10, and looking for books to read.

Since I have no clue what’s cool and cutting edge for these ages, this is a great excuse to indulge in a bit of nostalgia and dredge up fond memories of what I was probably reading in the second half of primary school.

From as early as I remember I read everything I could get my hands on, and since we had a really excellent local library, that was a fairly wide range. The library as I remember it was a series of interconnected portakabins, with a generous kids’ section, and untold treasure troves behind the scenes of books they didn’t have space for on the shelves, but could always produce for you on request.

Obviously the best kind of books were part of a series, and the longer the series the better. A list follows. But I seem to remember a few good one-offs too, so I’ll add them at the end as well.

* Enid Blyton
Enid Blyton goes without saying – obviously after finding the Secret Seven too childish, it was time to move on to the Famous Five, and also the Five Find-Outers and Dog. It wasn’t till later that I discovered the Adventurous Four, who enjoyed some very exciting exploits, and the Secret series (Secret of Spiggy Holes etc). There were also some school stories – Malorie Towers – and a peculiar fairy tale based on the dubious premise of a Magic Far Away Tree.

* The Hardy Boys
American, but an almost infinite series. A pair of brothers whose dad was an FBI investigator and who went round solving mysteries – the good guys always good, and the bad guys suitably villainous. Nancy Drew was meant to be the girl equivalent (dad a lawyer), but was never so satisfying, maybe because of the annoying entourage of boyfriends and a timid fellow investigator – but again the series just ran and ran.

* The Three Investigators
By Alfred Hitchcock, but don’t think horror movies – three boys with lots of ingenuity foiling villainous villains in many different ways.

* Willard Price’s Adventure series
Two boys travelling around the world, collecting exotic animals for their dad’s zoo. Exciting and remarkably informative.

* Little House on the Prairie
Wagons, log cabins, winters with deep snow, survival in the wild West… the advantage of this series is that it’s
semi-autobiographical and grows up as Laura grows up.

* The Chalet School
Weird definitions of “slang” and very exalted notions of schoolgirl honour, but they had lots of good clean fun – and three official languages.

* Monica Edwards
Actually a couple of series, but the characters eventually overlap. Decent kids, realistic scenarios, and satisfying endings.

* The Black Stallion
A long series about a beautiful Arab thoroughbred and the boy who trains him.

* anything by Mollie Hunter
Not strictly a series, but she wrote several historical novels for different time periods (A Pistol in Greenyards on the Clearances, the Lothian Run on the lawless 1700s).

* Anne of Green Gables
Quirky/sensible in an early 20th century type way.

* Jill’s Gymkhana
I never got the pony obsession, but of the possible horsey stories, the Jill books were fairly down to earth.

* Sherlock Holmes
Essential preparation for Cumberbatch’s Sherlock in later life. Also good for encouraging lateral thinking.

* Doctor Doolittle
A sort of vet who could talk to animals, implausible but so cool.

* Rosemary Sutcliff
Historical novels, kind of like Nigel Tranter for kids. The Eagle of the Ninth was a series in its own right, but she  wrote lots of other books too.

* Malcolm Saville
A group of friends composed of a wide age range of children from a couple of families, who meet up on school holidays and always end up embroiled in things like helping vulnerable older people stave off crooks and fraudsters – other than the unconvincing dialogue, the characters and plots are very realistic (if set in the gentler world of ?1970s England).

* The Babysitter’s Club
Kidding. I absolutely couldn’t stand these.

Other things I never really got into –
* Swallows and Amazons – I did read them all, but often found them really confusing. Looking at them again quite recently, I discovered that the children’s dialogue does an awful lot of work – when they’re not speaking in code (‘dromedaries’ for ‘bikes’? hello?) many of the scene changes and plot shifts are conveyed primarily through the dialogue – clearly too subtle a technique for me at that age.
* Jennings, Just William, Billy Bunter – wasn’t the kind of humour that appealed, but some kids lap it up.
* Judy Blume, who lots of my contemporaries seemed to like, but I couldn’t make much sense of. Probably completely obsolete for this generation anyway.

One-offs

* The Hill of the Red Fox
By Allan Campbell Maclean – set in Skye, with bits of Gaelic, around the time of WWII – a thrilling plot with some excellent moments of real tension. Actually he did also write Master of Morgana and maybe some others, but Hill of the Red Fox was the best.

* Goodnight Mister Tom, by Michelle Magorian
A malnourished city child evacuated in the Second World War and sent to board with an old man who didn’t really want him, but a friendship springs up and it’s all very touching.

* To Kill a Mockingbird
Did I really read this in primary school? If not, then early secondary, as I’d definitely read it off my own bat before we did it as a set text, in a way which even at the time I knew would have ruined it for me if I hadn’t already discovered it for myself. I still think it’s excellent.

* Watership Down
Actually quite scary in parts. A milder, tamer series on a similar theme which appeared too late for me to really take much interest in was The Animals of Farthing Wood.

* My Side of the Mountain
A boy who ran away and set up his own new life in the wild, making himself a den to live in, foraging for food, and even taming wild animals if memory serves.

* The Desperate Journey
Two children who get evicted in the Clearances and end up heading for a new life in Canada after a gruelling spell in the cotton mills in Glasgow. By Kathleen Fidler, who also wrote lots of other standalone books, I think mostly under the Kelpies brand, which from memory published many intelligent and safe titles by various authors for this age range.

* My Friend Flicka
Story of a boy who tames a wild horse, against his scary dad’s expectations. Actually there might have been a sequel to this, but this is the only one I really remember.

Plus many hundreds more that slip my mind now. Sadly if childhood was spent with nose constantly in book, adulthood so far has been a failed aspiration to continue the same. Roll on retirement.

where to start

The best line in one of my recent posts, I knew I’d lifted from someone else, but when I went back to refresh my memory of the original context, it seemed like a big chunk was worth quoting in its own right. This is WTG Shedd, first published in the 1870s. (I borrowed what Shedd applied to the will and affections to apply to the mind – I think the point still holds.)

~~~

There is no part of man’s complex being which is less under his own control than his own will and his own affections. This he discovers, as soon as he attempts to convert them – as soon as he tries to produce a radical change in them.

Let a man whose will, from centre to circumference, is set on self and the world, attempt to reverse it, and set it with the same strength and energy on God and heaven, and he will know that his will is too strong for him, and that he cannot overcome himself. Let a man whose affections cleave … to earthly good, and find their sole enjoyment in earthly pleasures, attempt to change them into their own contraries, so that they shall cleave to God, and take a real delight in heavenly things – let a carnal man try to revolutionise himself into a spiritual man – and he will discover that the affections and feelings of his heart are beyond his control.

And the reason of this is plain. The affections and will of a man show what he loves and what he is inclined to. A sinful man cannot, therefore, overcome his sinful love and inclination, because he cannot make a beginning. The instant he attempts to love God, he finds his love of himself in the way. This new love for a new object, which he proposes to originate within himself, is prevented by an old love, which already has possession. This new inclination to heaven and divine things is precluded by an old inclination, very strong and very set, to earth and earthly things.

There is therefore no starting point in this affair of self-conversion. He proposes, and he tries, to think a holy thought, but there is a sinful thought already in the mind. He attempts to start out a Christian grace – say the grace of humility – but the feeling of pride already stands in the way, and, what is more, remains in the way. He tries to generate the supreme love of God, of which he has heard so much, but the supreme love of himself is ahead of him, and occupies the whole ground.

In short, he is baffled at every point in this attempt to radically change his own heart and will, because at every point this heart and will are already committed and determined. Go down as low as he pleases, he finds sin – love of sin, and inclination to sin. He never reaches a point where these cease, and therefore never reaches a point where he can begin a new love and a new inclination. … Go down as low as you please into your heart and will, you will find your self below you: you will find sin not only lying at the door but lying in the way. If you move in the line of your feelings and affections, you will find earthly feelings and affections ever below you. If you move in the line of your choice and inclination, you will find a sinful choice and inclination ever below you. In chasing your sin through the avenues of your fallen and corrupt soul, you are chasing your horizon – in trying to get clear of it by your own isolated and independent strength, you are attempting (to use the illustration of Goethe, who however employed it for a false purpose) to jump off your own shadow.

~

This, then, is the reason why the heart and will of a sinful man are so entirely beyond his own control. They are preoccupied and predetermined, and therefore he cannot make a beginning in the direction of holiness. If he attempts to put forth a holy determination, he finds a sinful one already made and making – and this determination is his determination, unforced, responsible, and guilty. If he tries to start out a holy emotion, he finds a sinful emotion already beating and rankling – and this emotion is his emotion, unforced, responsible, and guilty. There is no physical necessity resting on him. Nothing but this love of sin and inclination to self stands in the way of a supreme love of God and holiness – but it stands in the way. Nothing but the sinful affections of the heart prevents a man from exercising a holy affection – but it prevents him effectually. An evil tree cannot bring forth good fruit…

~

There is a need therefore of a divine operation to renew, to radically change, the heart and will. If they cannot renew themselves, they must be renewed; and there is no power that can reach them but that mysterious energy of the Holy Spirit which likes the wind bloweth where it listeth, and we hear the sound thereof, but cannot tell whence it cometh or whither it goeth. The condition of the human heart is utterly hopeless, were it not for the promised influences of the Holy Ghost to regenerate it.

~

… We close with the single remark that it should be man’s first and great aim to obtain the new heart. … It matters not how active your conscience may be, how clear and accurate your intellectual convictions of truth may be, how elevated may be your moral sentiments and  your admiration of virtue, if you are destitute of an evangelical experience. Of what value will all these be in the day of judgment, if you have never sorrowed for sin, never appropriated the atonement for sin, and never been inwardly sanctified? Our Lord says to every man, ‘Either make the tree good, and its fruit good, or else make the tree corrupt and its fruit corrupt.’ The tree itself must be made good. The heart and will themselves must be renewed. These are the root and stock into which everything else is grafted, and so long as they remain in their apostate natural condition, the man is sinful and lost, do what else he may.

It is indeed true that such a change as this is beyond your power to accomplish. With man it is impossible, but with God it is a possibility and a reality. It has actually been wrought in thousands of wills, as stubborn as yours – in millions of hearts, as worldly and selfish as yours. We commend you, therefore, to the person and work of the Holy Spirit. We remind you that he is able to renovate and sweetly incline the obstinate will, to soften and spiritualise the flinty heart. He says, ‘I will put a new spirit within you, and I will take the stony heart out of your flesh, and will give you an heart of flesh, that ye may walk in my statutes, and keep my ordinances, and do them, and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God.’

Do not listen to these declarations and promises of God supinely, but arise and earnestly plead them. Take words on  your lips, and go before God. Say to him, ‘I am the clay, be thou the potter. Behold thou desirest truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden parts thou shalt make me to know wisdom. I will run in the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt enlarge my heart. Create within me a clean heart, O God, and renew within me a right spirit.’ Seek for the new heart. Ask for the new heart. Knock for the new heart. ‘For, if ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him.’ …

~~~

WTG Shedd, Sermons to the Natural Man. BOT. (‘The approbation of goodness is not the love of it,’ p302ff) (Italics original, paragraphing not.)

(When I first read this, especially the first two chunks, it seemed to capture with unerring and uncanny accuracy exactly what I was starting to feel. The culpability of inability as well as the reality of it. That was several years ago now.)

the three objects of faith

According to John Colquhoun (1748-1827):

John ColquhounThe objects which the eager hand of faith grasps and receives are strictly speaking three – a word, a person, and a thing; or a verbal object, a personal object, and a real object. The word brings the person near to us, and the person brings the thing near.

These three should, in our exercise of faith, be distinguished, but never divided. The man who has one of them possesses all; and he who has not all possesses none. Christ Jesus, the glorious person, with God in him, is, as an object of faith, between the word and the thing, and it is he alone who gives importance and value to both. The former is the Word of God, and the latter the righteousness of God.

We therefore may with full assurance of faith rely on both, and be as firmly persuaded that they can never fail us as that he is the only begotten Son of God, and God equal with the Father.

A View of Saving Faith, p98.

the ethical context of knowing

It isn’t possible to really know the truths of the gospel without it having a thoroughly life changing impact. If you know the truth without it making any particular difference in your day to day life, then you don’t really know it at all.

Obviously there are plenty people who are familiar with what the Bible teaches and even accept that it’s true. They know that they’re sinners and Jesus is the Saviour and they have no hope for eternity without him. But somehow it doesn’t translate into them putting their knowledge into practice and actually believing in Jesus for salvation. To all intents and purposes, they might as well not have the information at all. Because, if you know these things, why aren’t you acting like it?

The reason is that the knowledge that we hold in our heads doesn’t just sit there in a space purely reserved for facts and propositions, abstracted neatly from our likes and dislikes and experiences and inclinations. What shapes our knowledge, and especially how we act on our knowledge, is fundamentally the kind of person we are. For human beings, and fallen human beings, there are only two possibilities – either the kind of person who is simply fallen, or the kind of person who is fallen yet renewed.

To fallen humanity, nothing is more antithetical than God. Accepting that God is true is the last thing we want to do. We will generously concede some points when we have to, but only on our own terms, when it suits us to live with the consequences. What we can’t outright deny we ignore, and what we can’t forget we suppress. Our own sinfulness blinds our minds to the glaringly obvious realities that confront us in creation, providence, and scripture. Our own fallenness is the snarling gatekeeper for all the truths we’re prepared to accept in our minds and any truths we’ll ever act on in our lives.

It’s only that subset of fallen humanity who are renewed who are ever pleased with God and happy to hear what he has to say. The only kind of heart that gladly embraces the truth is a new heart. The Word gets a warm reception and is put into loving practice only when it’s sown in an honest and good heart, the kind that doesn’t come naturally.

This is what makes the difference between knowing you’re a sinner, and knowing you’re a sinner. In the unrenewed, this knowledge is denied, ignored, or suppressed. In the renewed, this knowledge is accepted, consented to, and motivates repentance towards God. The unrenewed know that Jesus is God’s appointed Saviour, and they reject him anyway. The renewed know that Jesus is the Saviour, and they love him and trust him accordingly.

It’s the state of our own hearts and minds – whether we hold our knowledge in the ethical environment of an unrenewed or a renewed heart and mind – the context of a heart and mind at peace with God or still enmity against him – that determines our relationship and reaction to the truths we’re acquainted with. The fallen person’s mind encounters the truth and resists it as far as they dare because of their own fallenness. The renewed person’s mind welcomes the truth and lives in harmony with it as far as they can, because of their renewedness.

The only way out of the trap set by our own nature is divine and gracious. We can’t renew ourselves. Attempting to know contrary to our own nature is as hopeless as trying to jump off our own shadow – trying to persuade ourselves of truths we’re fundamentally averse to, trying to empower ourselves to live as though we believed what we relentlessly reject, or trying to pretend to ignore the gross conflict between living life knowing that Jesus is the only Saviour and still refusing to be saved by him.

We simply cannot get beyond the constraints of our own nature. God has to rescue us from ourselves, if we’re to be rescued at all. Although we prefer to think hard thoughts about him, it is actually true that if any of us lacks wisdom we can ask it of him, as he gives it liberally to all sorts of people, and doesn’t reproach us over it.

Our minds are too dark for us to deal with, even supposing we wanted to come to the light, but not so dark that his Spirit can’t shine in. It’s a key part of his work to enlighten our minds in the knowledge of Christ in such a way that we’re persuaded and enabled to receive and rest on him as he is revealed in the gospel. Poor preachers have the task of preaching the truth to people whose minds and hearts are hardened, sermon-proof strongholds of resistance, but the situation is not hopeless while the light of God’s Word is shining out, and while the Holy Spirit is authorised and equipped to take of the things of Jesus and reveal them savingly to us.

the turning point of history

For thousands of years of the world’s history, God’s people lived and walked in a state of expectation. They knew that the Saviour was coming, so the bulk of their religion consisted of waiting, and looking forward to the time when this promise would be fulfilled.

When the Son of God did come in our nature, obviously not everyone, even of his own people, recognised him for who he was. But there were still some in Jerusalem who were looking for redemption, and when they saw him, they actually saw his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. When they realised that their eyes were seeing the Lord’s salvation, they rejoiced and blessed God and felt such a sense of peace. ‘We have found the Messiah!’ The Lord had demonstrated himself to be true to his word, the promised Saviour had come, and the Lamb of God was even now in the process of bearing away the sin of the world.

Some years back, I heard a group of ministers discussing the incarnation and the cross. The main thing, they said, or something along these lines, was to adore Christ crucified. The glory of the incarnation is not so great as the glory of the cross, and the real mark of grace is to see the glory of the Saviour in the light of Isaiah 53, and to understand the cross as the wisdom and power of God.

This is of course true. No doubt there is and has been a sentimental tendency to talk up the grace of the Son in becoming man and joining us in our difficult and depressing circumstances – all fluffy complacency about the sympathy and empathy we feel we need in our state of misery, and little concern about the salvation we really need from our state of sin. It is completely wrong of this kind of sentimentalism to try to avoid mentioning uncomfortable things like sin-bearing and propitiation and expiation, Jesus setting his face like a flint to go up to Jerusalem to lay down his life a sin-atoning sacrifice, for love of his holy Father and love of righteousness and love of his sinful, unlovely people. Nobody is more caring than the Lord Jesus, but first he deals with the guilt and pollution of our sin, and that means the cross.

But I think and hope that it can still be a mark of grace to wonder and worship on account of the incarnation. The thought that he came to die on the cross still includes the thought that he came. When the Son of God became the son of man, it was truly the turning point in human history – the triumphant fulfilment of what the Lord had been speaking by his prophets for centuries, the point when the fullness of the time had come, and it brought unheard of glory to God in the highest. The fact that Christ, being the Son of God, became man, was unprecedented humiliation. It was not the deepest part of his humiliation, but it was the first part. This person who was God, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being and all his other attributes, became man – finite, needing to be sustained in life, undergoing growth and development, prone to suffering and sorrow. It is a mystery. And there is such grace to be seen in it: not just the vast distance between how rich he was and how poor he became, but the fact that it was for sinners – sinners, who by definition didn’t deserve it, and whose sin made them utterly hostile to receiving it – and for them, in their place and on their behalf. He had to do all the work for them, and it was a hard work. He who knew no sin was made sin for them, so that they, who knew no righteousness, might be made the righteousness of God in him, even though they didn’t know or care that they needed him, appreciated nothing of what he had to suffer and do for them, had nothing holy or good or attractive about them, and would have carried on perpetually in their enmity against him if he hadn’t made the provision for that as well.

Of course, the fullest scope for adoration of the Lord, in terms of satisfaction with his word coming true, wonder at the mystery, or worship for his grace, is at the cross. It’s the Lamb that was slain who is worthy to all eternity to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and blessing. But that’s not to the exclusion of worshipping him for everything else that he is and does and did and suffered. It is still fitting to sing glory to God in the highest for the day the Saviour was born, even while there is yet more to praise him for over and above that. It is a faithful saying, worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came.