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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Veiled in Flesh ( The Messenger of the Covenant ) ( a Christmas companion )

Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations rise, Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’angelic host proclaim, “Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

Christ, by highest Heav’n adored; Christ the everlasting Lord;
Late in time, behold Him come, Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail th’incarnate Deity,
Pleased with us in flesh to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.

Hail the heav’nly Prince of Peace! Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings, Ris’n with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by, Born that man no more may die.
Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth.

Come, Desire of nations, come, Fix in us Thy humble home;
Rise, the woman’s conqu’ring Seed, Bruise in us the serpent’s head.
Now display Thy saving power, Ruined nature now restore;
Now in mystic union join Thine to ours, and ours to Thine.

Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface, Stamp Thine image in its place:
Second Adam from above, Reinstate us in Thy love.
Let us Thee, though lost, regain, Thee, the Life, the inner man:
O, to all Thyself impart, Formed in each believing heart.

Though some of us may find ourselves in disagreement with Wesley's eschatology, or other aspects of his theology; he said rightly that God was 'veiled in flesh', when He sent His only begotten Son to earth. Traditionally, I believe, and there seems to be good Scriptural support for this, Jesus was born as a human being because the justice of God required a blood sacrifice, and not only that, but He had to be a true man, so that He could pay the penalty that man had incurred.

When Moses asked to see God's Glory, in Exodus 33, God told him, 'You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live'. In the end, Moses had barely a glimpse of His Glory, because God told Moses, 'Here is a place by Me, and you shall stand on the rock. So it shall be, while My glory passes by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock, and will cover you with My hand while I pass by. Then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back; but My face shall not be seen'. Even though he barely had a glimpse of the Glory of God, it is recorded that, after this experience; 'the skin of his face shone', so that 'he put a veil on his face', in order that the 'children' of Israel could bear to look at him. I believe that part of the reason that God sent His Son to earth in human 'flesh', was so that His people could bear His Presence.


'For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God [ did ] by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh.'


In the previous chapter; Paul defended the law, saying that it was 'holy, and .......and just and good' ( 7:12 ). This being true; God sent of Himself to fulfill His own law, written in stone, because the ordinance that He had given was contrary to the selfish nature of His human creation. Paul also wrote, later ( I Corinthians 1:25b ), 'the weakness of God is stronger than men' ( Like any good Father; He set the example for us, revealing His own humility in weakness ). To His adversaries, Jesus did seem weak ( except for that episode, probably, in the Temple, with all the money, tables, etc., flying around......), 'who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return' ( I Peter 2:23a ). When He was tormented by His captors; Jesus 'was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth' ( Isaiah 53:7b ). Born as a baby; Jesus revealed the epitome of weakness and humility: think of it; Almighty God ( Isaiah 9:6 ), the Creator of all things ( John 1:3 ), emptying Himself of all that power and glory, just to be born as a weak human infant, and then to suffer the indignity of growing up into manhood, only to be murdered in the cruelest way then imaginable, all to reveal Himself as the great Anti-type, the fulfillment of all that had been written ( including the law ).


'And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us'


One of the most beautiful, and uplifting, passages in Scripture is found in Isaiah 40: verse 29 says 'He gives power to the weak, and to [ those who have ] no might He increases strength.' Joel prophesied of this, in Joel 3:10; 'Let the weak say, ‘I [ am ] strong'. We read, in Hebrews 7:18, 'For on the one hand there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness', and later, in the same book, or letter, we read that God instituted the new covenant because of the weakness of the flesh, because He found fault with them ( 8:7-12 ( Jeremiah 31:31-34 ). God sent His own Son, God Himself, as a man, that He, through the weakness of 'the flesh' might give strength through His Spirit ( think of Sampson here, in Judges 16 ), to that 'flesh', and through that Spirit, to conquer the 'wisdom' of that 'flesh' ( I Corinthians 1:27 ( Isaiah 29:14, Jeremiah 8:9 ).

Some may have noticed that, for the past number of months ( close to a year, probably ); I have been enamored with taking pictures of the 'heavens' ( which 'declare the glory of God' ( Psalm 19:1 ): a friend of mine commented on this, reminding me that the clouds acted as a layer of protection from the brightness, and invisible dangers of the Sun's rays. In much the same way, as I began to mention earlier; God's veiling of Himself ( His Son ) in the weakness of human flesh served the same purpose. Not only did Jesus appear in 'the flesh' in order to do what man by himself could not do, to atone for the sins of His people, but also to protect weak, frail mankind ( whose 'days [ are ] like grass' ( Psalm 103:15, Isaiah 40:6-8 ) from His holiness, and righteous indignation.



Behold, I send My Messenger, and He will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight.


Many, I believe, have taken this statement from the prophecy of Malachi ( 3:1 ) as speaking of the mission of John the Baptizer, but I believe that, taken as a whole, and read in context; this 'Messenger of the covenant' is proven to be none other than our Lord, Jesus the Christ. He prepared the way, through the weakness and humility of His 'flesh', for God to dwell, once again, with man, as Jesus promised in John 14:23, 'If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.' True Man, yet also true God; He came to prove that man, with God, could do what man alone could not do, and that was to re-enter into fellowship and communion with God.

Quoting Psalm 40:6-8 ( from the Septuagint, I believe ), the writer to the Hebrews revealed that, when the Christ ( 'Anointed One'- Isaiah 61:1 ) came into the world, He prophesied, saying 'Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me' ( Hebrews 10:5 ) Though why, as the link above attempts to explain, there is still question as to why the Septuagint, and thus, the author of the letter to the Hebrews, uses the phrase 'a body You have prepared for Me', rather than what we find in the Hebrew Scriptures, 'My ears You have opened'; it is clear from Scripture, as typified in places like Genesis 22:13 ( regarding the 'son of promise'-Romans 9:9, Galatians 4:28-31 ), and Isaiah 26:19a, which reads 'Your dead shall live; [ together with ] my dead body[b] they shall arise', that God did prepare a biological body for His Son, in which to redeem, and reconcile His people to Himself.


Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh....................

Having been familiarized, no doubt, with the ways of the Persian court; Esther knew that if one was to approach the king; as he sat on his throne in the inner court ( significant of the Holy of Holies, or 'the Holiest' ) without first being called, there was 'but one law: put [ all ] to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter, that he may live' ( Esther 4:11 ), so that when she finally approached the throne, three days later, one can only imagine that it was with some amount of trepidation, even though she had boldly announced at the outset, with resignation, 'I will go to the king, which [ is ] against the law; and if I perish, I perish!' As we know from reading further, the king did hold out his scepter to her, because Esther, for whatever reason, found grace in the eyes of her lord. This is a beautiful picture of the grace that the writer to the Hebrews talked about, earlier in the book of Hebrews, when he wrote, 'Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.' ( 4:16 ).

In the quote above, from Hebrews 10; the writer seems to be speaking of the physical, biological 'flesh' of Jesus, but I don't believe the anybody could be convinced that we actually enter ( go in ) to 'the Holiest', before an actual physical throne of God, through ( or even by ) the biological 'fleshly' body of Jesus ( ? ). I believe that most of us can agree, to differing extent, that the writer is speaking metaphorically here, revealing to his readers that it is through belief in the Godhood of the Christ, and trust in His righteousness, that we enter the 'Throne-room' to present our prayers and petitions before our God and King.


Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.

It is recorded, in Genesis 18:10, that God promised Abraham, 'I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son'. This child ( Isaac ) was [ born ] 'according to the Spirit', while the son by Hagar was born 'according to the flesh'. Paul went on to explain to the church at Galatia that this was all given as an allegory, revealing the two covenants, and the true 'sons of Abraham' ( Galatians 3:7-9 ) Romans 2:28 & 29, 9:6-9 ). From all accounts; Isaac was conceived naturally, as Abraham..............yeah, so anyway; I think we all know about that 'birds & bees' stuff, but the point is, although Scripture never says specifically, that  Abraham impregnated Sarah, I believe it's a fairly safe speculation that he did, and yet Paul wrote that Isaac was [ born ] 'according to the Spirit'.

'Emmanuel' means 'God with us', revealing, as John wrote, in John 1:14 ( quoted above ), that this Child that would be born was God Himself. However you look at it, whether you want to posit, as some do, that Jesus ( God ) was born of a virgin in order that His blood might be pure ( pure speculation ), or whether you accept the proposition that Isaiah prophesied simply that Jesus would be born of a young woman, as some have been known to suggest; the point is, that this Child was born, that His shed blood was a sufficient sacrifice, 'a soothing aroma' ( Genesis 8:21 ) before Almighty God. Going back to the conception of Isaac, recorded in Genesis 18:10; God had told Abraham, 'I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son' ( Genesis 21:1-3 ), but, reading further, it is easy to see why one would speculate, as Sarah did, that this would be a natural, rather than super-natural ( spiritual? ), birth, but are Gabriel's words of promise to Mary, and then Joseph, really all that different? To Mary, the angel said 'Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS' ( Luke 1:30-33 ), later telling Joseph in a dream, 'Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit' ( Matthew 1:20 ).

As we celebrate the natural birth of our Lord this Christmas season, let us remember, not only the Gift that was presented to man so long ago, but that we should celebrate this Gift all year long, in every aspect of our lives; like I wrote in the previous article to which this is companion: 'a celebration of Life'! As we celebrate this Christmas ( for I still celebrate almost traditionally ), and keeping in mind that it is not ( necessarily ) whether one observes this ( among others ) as a 'special' day/season, or not, it is what's in the 'heart' that counts: the 'Reason for the Season'!

Charles Haddon Shank

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