Last year on Christmas Eve we exposited the Christmas praise in Luke 2:14 together. This year, we heard about the Christmas hope, Christmas faith, Christmas joy, and Christmas peace we enjoy because of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. We have reveled in His many promises for His people and His earth—promises of restoration, redemption, justification, renewal, and sanctification. God responds to our rebellion, sin or high treason, by offering forgiveness, hope, faith, joy, and peace. How wonderful the Christmas promises are! Why does the work of the God-man 2,000 years ago matter today? Isn’t the work already done in Christ? Do we not meet simply to celebrate the work Christ has already done? We normally want to try to honor others who give us gifts by giving in return. I know we have nothing to offer that God doesn’t already have, but I wonder what God desires from us in response to His forgiveness through the incarnation. We read about a few such things in the New Testament, but I want to think about only one this evening—the doctrine of continuing incarnation.
So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.”
But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.
So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”
Jesus has been raised from the grave. He accomplished His mission. He conquered sin and death. Like the Old Testament promised, the Messiah came and restored God’s people among the nations to God. That is why we celebrate the incarnation of Jesus Christ every week in the Sunday gathering. We come together to celebrate and remember the person and work of Jesus Christ.
After His resurrection, Jesus spent 40 more days on the earth, appearing to His many disciples in the glorified state (cf. Acts 1:3). Jesus did not end His incarnation and let His body decay. He continues to bear human flesh and continues to be 100% God and 100% human in the glorified state. Essentially, that is the doctrine of continuing incarnation. In John 20:19-25, Jesus appears to His church in the glorified state. It is Sunday night. Christians are hiding from Jewish zealots who hated Christian Jews. Jesus is standing in their midst—though some mystery surrounds the way in which He came to be in their midst. Jesus speaks, “Shalom,” a standard Jewish greeting that means “peace,” and the people notice Him. He shows them the source of their shalom, His scars of glory. They celebrate like we celebrate every Lord’s day, Sunday. There is no need to display a crucifix because we meet to celebrate the risen Jesus and the fulfillment of His promise of peace—shalom.
When His disciples celebrated, Jesus did not leave them to merely celebrate in remembrance of Him from week to week. Instead of simply saying, “Now wait until my return, when I will finally make all things new,” Jesus gave some very specific instructions to the church. I want to consider Jesus’s instruction together.
The Church’s Mission and Christ’s Vision For The Church in the Current Age
“Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”
Jesus begins His instruction, after His initial standard greeting mind you, with a declaration of peace to all of His disciples. Despite their sin and rebellion against God almighty, despite their high treason against the highest universal king, they have peace because of the person and work of Jesus Christ. The state of those in Christ is now peaceful existence with God even though they were His enemies because of their own sinfulness. What an amazing act of grace and mercy. We no longer have to obsess over our sins or think that God is somehow seeking retribution against us because we sinned against Him. He has declared unconditional peace between Himself and His people.
After declaring peace, Jesus reminds His disciples about His incarnation, “…as the Father has sent Me…” Jesus did not begin to exist. The Father sent Him. At the beginning of His Gospel, John made the doctrine of the incarnation evident:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it… And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:1-5, 14).
Christ existed in the beginning. He was God and was with the Father—one essence but different persons. He is the one through whom all things were created, and nothing came to exist apart from Him. In the incarnation, Jesus became flesh, sent by the Father. He dwelt among people and revealed the grace and truth of the Father. In fact, the Father sent Jesus to bear witness to the truth (cf. John 18:37). Concerning the incarnation, John also wrote:
For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him (John 1:16-18).
The Father sent Jesus to (1) give grace upon grace, (2) reveal truth, (3) explain God to humanity, and (4) redeem God’s elect at the fullness of time (cf. Galatians 4:4).
After reminding the church about the work He was sent to accomplish in His incarnation, Jesus likewise sends the congregation, “…as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” Have you ever wondered why we don’t typically experience christophanies today? In the Old Testament, we read about the Angel of the Lord who appeared to shepherd God’s chosen people during climactic moments. The incarnate Christ dwelt among people in the First Century AD. When He ascends in 33 AD (ish), Jesus will send the Holy Spirit to indwell those who belong to Him (cf. John 16:7; Acts 1-2). Today, He appears through those who bear His Holy Spirit. He sends us to others like He came to us by the power of the His Holy Spirit. He sends us out to:
- give grace,
- reveal truth,
- explain God to humanity, and
- apply the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
Jesus does not instruct His disciples to condemn those outside the locked church doors who persecuted them. The disciples are to be light in the darkness like Christ came as a light in the darkness, even though the darkness does not comprehend it (cf. John 1:4-5, 9). Jesus continues:
He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.”
After breathing on them, playing on the Hebrew meaning of Spirit (רוח meant spirit, breath, or wind), Jesus instructed His church to receive the Holy Spirit and do the work of forgiveness—the work of an evangelist. He instructed the whole church to proclaim, “You are forgiven in the name of Christ Jesus…” or not… Perhaps we will think more about the or not part of the equation at a later time. We are to be Christ to the world like Christ was in His incarnation. The church, the body of Christ, is the appearance of the continuing incarnation of Christ in the world following His ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit. Now you know why the church is often referred to as the body of Christ.
|Preincarnate Appearances of Christ||Incarnate Appearance of Christ||Continuing Incarnate Appearance of Christ|
|The Angel of the Lord, word of God through the prophets||Jesus of Nazareth||The body of Christ indwelt by the Holy Spirit, Christ’s church|
Christ’s incarnation continues in His glorified state. He does not loose His flesh. He has sent His spirit, and now appears to the world through His body, the church, until His return. We go to others like Christ came to us.
This Christmas season, we celebrate the hope we have in our Messiah. We celebrate the faith He gives us. We celebrate joyfully. We celebrate the peace we get to experience with the Most High. Do we merely celebrate? Christ’s incarnation is not finished. He continues to appear to people through His church. If all we do is meet and celebrate, we have not grasped the meaning of the incarnation—which is appearance. Do we merely celebrate Christmas, or do we follow Jesus? Do we honor Him by being the evangelists He has instructed us to be—announcing forgiveness of sin to the world? Do we meet together to build one another up like Christ built up His disciples, or do we neglect the gathering? When we say, “Merry Christmas,” is the merry news on our lips, or do we neglect the Gospel? May we not merely celebrate Christmas without being about the business of our Lord, Jesus Christ. He is the reason for the season. He gave the season to remind us of His reasons.
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