Christmas and Ultimate Questions
Dr. Paul Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. He serves as a Regional Mentor with the International Association of Biblical Counselors, speaks at several conferences throughout the year, and provides training for ministers and churches on a regular basis. Paul resides in the Upstate of South Carolina with his wife and three children.
- 2006 Dec 29
No thinking Christian doubts that we live in a shallow culture that is materialistic, narcissistic, and pleasure oriented. The fact is that "Dancing with the Stars" and "American Idol" are far more popular than "The History Channel" or the evening news.
I majored in philosophy as an undergrad: and that's strange in our day. Yet, philosophy used to be the pursuit of the ancients. Thinking men used to contemplate the origin of life, the meaning of life, and whether or not there is actually life beyond the grave. Ultimate questions were the concern of most individuals at one time. Sadly, that mindset is no longer pervasive.
"What is truth" is not a question that's high on the priority list of most. Even those who are interested in making a difference in this world and enjoy talking about reality or truth are woefully blind in most cases. Many of my friends are atheistic, hold to an evolutionary worldview, and reject metaphysical truth. One such friend and young man is majoring in math at a prominent university and routinely belittles those who reject evolution. Yet, mathematics makes no sense on his worldview. In a universe that exists by virtue of random chance, the laws of logic, nature, or math make no sense. In order for those things to make sense one has to posit a universe in which something beyond the physical (logic) exists and one in which there is order and design (natural law, math, etc.).
Christians, even the most uneducated, need not take the intellectual low-seat in this culture. When the body of Christ gathers, there is no doubt the issues of worship and faith are on display. At the same time, when Christians gather for worship in faith, they engage in a highly intellectual pursuit. They are dealing with questions of ultimate reality or to put it more simply, ultimate questions.
Consider the "Christmas story." There is no doubt that in our evangelical context, most want the watered down version of that story. They want something light and airy. However, the truth is that something ultimate happened on that beautiful, Christmas night two-thousand years ago.
First, on that beautiful, Christmas night two-thousand years ago, the Word was made flesh. The Scriptures declare that "The word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (Jn. 1:14)." The Greek word behind "word" in this verse is logos. Of course, the logos was a Greek philosophical concept connected to the divine or ultimate reality. The apostle John uses this word and concept to say to the world that Christ is the true logos; the true word; divine; and that which is ultimate.
James Montgomery Boice points out that Augustine, the early church theologian, was schooled in the philosophies of the ancients. He had imbibed of platonic thought and associated himself with the Manicheans. He had read all about the logos. He had connected the logos to the divine and knew the logos was active in creation. But, he had never read that the logos became flesh. He had never comprehended the sublime truth that God took upon Himself human flesh; that in Christ dwelt the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form; that the logos became incarnate. That reality is ultimate and to contemplate such is highly intellectual and should lead to worship in faith. To contemplate the humiliation, the condescension, and the mission of God in such a dynamic should be staggeringly halting to say the least.
Second, on that beautiful Christmas night two-thousand years ago, the Lord tabernacled among us. The word John uses for "dwelt" refers to pitching one's tent. How beautiful is the picture of the Lord pitching His tent among us for a time. Of course, this picture is a reference to the Old Testament tabernacle that represented so much about God to the people of Israel and points to so much for us. The tabernacle is a shadow but the reality is Christ.
Dr. Boice points out a few of those dynamics. He notes that the tabernacle was in the center of the camp. The twelve tribes were strategically placed around the tabernacle. As the tabernacle points to Christ, this is a demonstration that Christ is the center of all things and indeed the center of all the nations. I might add that the twelve tribes, or the 144,000 of the Revelation, typify the whole of the people of God whom Christ purchased from every nation, tribe, and language. The Lord Jesus Himself said, "If I be lifted up (on the cross), I will draw all peoples to myself (Jn. 12:32)."
The tabernacle was where the law was preserved. And so was Christ. It was He who fulfilled every point of the law. O friends, be thankful you are not under the law and that you have a holy Savior!
The tabernacle was the dwelling place of God. Again, in Christ "dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Col. 2:9)." Indeed, He is God with us.
The tabernacle was the place of God's revelation. It is Christ who reveals the Father to us. Jesus said, "If you've seen me you've seen the Father (Jn. 14:9)." Further, "I and the Father are one (Jn. 10:30)."
The tabernacle was the place where sacrifices were made. It goes without saying that Christ is the true sacrifice. "For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins...we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (Heb. 10:4; 10)."
The tabernacle was the place where the people worshipped. While the form of worship has changed from the primeval period to the patriarchal period to the Old Covenant to the New Covenant, the essence of worship has not. The essence of worship is the glorification of God though the person and work of Jesus Christ. He is the center of Christian worship. He is the place where we worship God by virtue of who He is in fact as God and by way of title as declared by God: He is both Lord and Christ. These things are ultimate; intellectual; and, of course, heart gripping.
Third, on that beautiful Christmas night two-thousand years ago, the Son revealed God's glory. John declares to us that He is the "only begotten of the Father." This dynamic speaks to Christ's uniqueness above all things. He is unique in terms of sonship. That is, He is the unique, one of a kind, Son of God. We might be called sons of God but not in the same sense that Christ is the Son of God. Christ, from eternity past, enjoyed face to face fellowship with the Father. He is God and the Son.
Moreover, this unique relationship and the uniqueness of His person is highlighted in His birth. He is the only begotten of the Father. In His incarnation, He was not born of an earthly Father but conceived of the Holy Spirit. He is the only theanthropic being; He is the God-man.
And yet, the issue goes a bit deeper. He is begotten not made. This great reality is emphasized in the Nicene Creed: "We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried, and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father. And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end." Intellectual? Yes! Ultimate? Yes! Inspiring of worship? Yes!
Fourth, on that beautiful Christmas night two-thousand years ago, the Christ shown God's fullness. He is full of grace! Who is like unto Him? He is full of truth! Pilate asked, "What is truth?" Truth is Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ is truth. Theology used to be considered the Queen of the Sciences. I'm so glad I'm a scientist by grace and that all believers are such as the Queen of the Sciences points us to the King of the Universe; the Savior of the World; the lover of our souls; our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Something ultimate happened on that beautiful Christmas night two-thousand years ago and our contemplation of it is deeply intellectual. We as Christians have the intellectual high ground as the wisdom of God demonstrates the wisdom of man to be foolishness. And yet, this intellectual pursuit grips our hearts and leads us to worship. It is not an either/or but a both/and. We worship God in spirit and in truth (Jn. 4:24)."
My daughter wrote a Christmas hymn this year. Let the truth expressed in the words engage your mind and grip your heart and lead you to worship your King: Christ Jesus.
"Long was the night when darkness reigned; When men were bound in sin and death.
No escape from hurt and pain; Not a sign of life or breath.
But in due time the darkness broke; A quick'ning ray and night awoke.
Oh world rejoice! Oh world rejoice, tonight!
Robed in glory, enthroned on high; One with God and God over all.
Emptied Himself, born to die; Came down to erase the fall.
Humbled Himself became a man; Fulfilled the Father's gracious plan.
O beauty bright! O beauty bright, tonight!
Born a babe yet truly the king; Stars in heaven He knows by name.
Hear O hear the angels sing; Guilty sinners He reclaimed.
Tonight, this night for all to see; Christ the savior was born for thee.
O sacred night! O sacred night, tonight!
[Chorus] - Tonight, tonight; O this beautiful Christmas night.
Oh world rejoice, O beauty bright; Oh world rejoice, O sacred night.
Tonight, tonight: O this beautiful Christmas night.
The Christ is born! The Christ is born, tonight!"
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