Christianity and theology

One of the key doctrines that sets apart the Roman Catholic Church (RC) and the Protestant churches is the doctrine of Mary also called Mariology. The RC exalts Mary to the position of a mediator between God and man and pray to her and say, “Holy Mary Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”

As Protestants, and more especially as Reformed believers, we are appalled by this prayer. How can one pray through Mary while Christ is the only mediator between God and man as Paul reminds us in 1 Timothy 2:5? But in our reaction to RC’s doctrine of Mary we often tend to go to another unhealthy extreme of ignoring the important and God-given role that Mary played  in the history of our redemption.

We need to guard against this extreme because as we see in the Bible Mary by God’s grace did play an essential role in our redemption. It is through her that the Savior, Jesus Christ, was born in the world. It is of little wonder then that her name is mentioned in the Apostles’ Creed.  Above all, the Scriptures call her “blessed among women” (Luke 2:42, 48).

One thing that will help us guard against the mentioned extreme is to always remember that Mary was chosen by God out of God’s own grace. This is where we the Protestants differ with the RC.  In Luke 1:28-30 we read

And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.

The Greek word charis translated favor in this passage means grace. In interpreting these verses the Roman Catholic Church teaches that Mary was the one who had grace. In other words, Mary was the source of grace hence in the “Hail Mary” Prayer, the RC members pray:

“Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee.”

However, this contradicts what Luke 1:28-30 tell us. Mary was the recipient of God’s grace; she was never the source of grace. Mary was not full of grace; God alone is full of grace.

The brief account of Mary which Luke records for us in chapter 1 clearly demonstrates that it was Mary who found grace in the eyes of God. Consider the following three points. First, Mary was a sinner in need of a Savior (Luke 1:46) just like all of us. And the Lord saved her by grace and chose her by the same grace to be the mother of Christ.

Second, Mary was from a very low and humble background. She was not a daughter of a king or a daughter of a rich man. In her song, the Magnificat, recorded for us in Luke 1:46-55 she confesses that she is from a humble estate. In verse 48 she says, “For he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.” In verses 52-53 she says, “He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.

Third, Mary was from an obscure town of Nazareth as we read in Luke 1:26 “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth.” Nazareth was neither the capital of Israel nor a big city in Israel. It was a city of little significance humanly speaking. You might remember that when Christ began to call his disciples in  John chapter 1 we read  that one of his first disciples was Phillip.  Later Philip invited his friend, Nathaniel and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” And what was the response of Nathaniel? “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

This is what people thought of Nazareth the hometown of Mary. Nothing good can come out of this little-known town. Yet, it is to this obscure city that God went and found a young lady named Mary and said to her, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus” (Luke 1:31).

The story of Mary resembles the story of our salvation in many ways. God chose to save us not because we were a better, richer or more powerful people. He saved us solely out of his sheer grace and mercy as Apostle Paul clearly reminds us  in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29:

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being  might boast in the presence of God.

God’s grace is indeed amazing.  To Him alone be the glory forever!

(This material first appeared in a form of a sermon which was first preached at London Free Reformed Church in London, Ontario, Canada on December 17, 2017).

The Virgin Mary: Chosen by Grace

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Sound Teaching

Meditations Toward Christmas: Deuteronomy 18:15

Another passage worthy of our meditation during this Christmas season is Deuteronomy 18:15: “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen”

A prophet, according to the Bible, is the one who speaks on behalf of God to his people. Moses was one of the great prophets of the Old Testament, and as his life approached to an end, he foretold of a greater prophet to come. The Bible does not leave us to guess as to who Moses was referring to because Apostle Peter in Acts 4:22 tells us that Moses was speaking of Jesus Christ.

Jesus is greater than Moses and all other prophets because he does not merely speak on behalf of God, but he himself is God. The author of Hebrews also emphasizes this truth and writes, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power,” (Hebrews 1:1-3).

Unlike the other prophets whose word had authority because God had sent them to speak, Christ speaks with his own authority. This why the other prophets had always to say, “Thus says the Lord…” while Christ says, “I say to you…” because he is the prophet per excellence.

Now this greater prophet came to us on Christmas day, and he called everyone to believe his word for salvation. The same call still stands today, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life,” (John 5:24).

Jesus Christ’s words show us that there is no middle ground. Believing the word of this prophet leads to life and rejecting it leads to death. May our celebration of the birth of this prophet also afford us time to reflect on which ground we stand.

“A little child, thou art our guest
That weary ones in thee may rest
Forlorn and lowly is thy birth
That we may rise to heav’n from earth” (Martin Luther)

Blessed Christmas!

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Meditations Toward Christmas: Genesis 12:1-3

Another Old Testament passages that points us to the coming or birth of Christ is Genesis 12:1-3: “Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’”

In this passage God promises to bless Abraham. The Lord also promises to bless the families of the earth through Abraham. There is no better commentary to this passage that the Bible itself. In Galatians 3:16, Apostle Paul looks back at this passage and writes, “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.”

God’s promise to bless all the families of the earth was ultimately fulfilled through his offspring, Jesus Christ. Today many families of earth have been blessed through Christ. Families that were once not a people, but now are God’s people; once they had not received mercy, but now we have received mercy (1 Peter 2:10).

Today, every nation, race or tribe has people calling upon the name of Christ. John confirms this truth in his vision of heaven. “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,” (Revelation 7:9).

This is the real meaning of Christmas namely that in Christ God is pouring out his rich blessings of justification (forgiveness of our sin and declaring us righteous in Christ) and sanctification (transforming us more and more in holiness after Christ). These blessings will climax in our glorification in which we shall be completely like Christ without sin, and we shall live with him in glory eternally. What a blessing!

For sure the hymn writer was right when he penned:

Ponder nothing earthly-minded
For with blessing in his hand
Christ our God to earth descend
King of kings, yet born of Mary…
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly glory.

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Meditations Toward Christmas: Genesis 3:15

In a few days’ time, the world will celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on Christmas. Christ’s birth is worthy celebrating because it marked God’s coming down to dwell with his people ( as his name, Immanuel, means) and to save them from their sin ( as his name, Jesus, means). Therefore, as we move toward Christmas, God willing, I would like us to reflect and meditate on a number of passages from the Old Testament that point us to the birth of Christ. I pray that these passages will help us celebrate the season meaningfully and with gratitude for God’s indescribable gift to us ( 2 Corinthians 9:15).

The first passage is Genesis 3:15: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

At the completion of creation in Genesis 1 and 2, God saw that everything was good. Man was also God’s best friend, and he enjoyed uninterrupted communion with his Creator. But in Genesis 3 we see the entry of sin,evil and death in a once good world. Man being deceived by the evil one sinks to his lowest end. He sinks deep in a quagmire of sin, misery, and shame.

Due to sin, man is alienated from God.  Once a friend of God, man now hides himself from his best friend. Man is also alienated even from his fellow man. Adam and Eve no longer enjoy the sweet companionship of husband and wife. Hear the words of Adam describing his wife whom he once called the bone of my bones and the flesh of my flesh, “The woman whom you gave to be with me…” He doesn’t call her his wife. Sin does not only alienate us from God but also from our fellow man.

God being just and righteous comes in judgment upon man. To Adam he says, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, you shall not eat from it; cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field; by the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:17-19).

To Eve he says, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Genesis 3:16).

But that’s not the end of the story. God also being gracious and merciful announces salvation and redemption for man as he condemns the evil one: “I will put enmity between you (the serpent) and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

The good news or the gospel comes in a form of enmity. It is important that God re-establishes this enmity because before sinning, man was a friend of God and enemy of the evil one. But when he sinned, he became a friend of the evil one and enemy of God. Therefore, God re-establishes this enmity as his gracious means of reconciling man to himself. What a gracious LORD. What an amazing love!

The seed of the woman ultimately refers to Jesus Christ. It is Jesus who crushed the head of the serpent (Romans 16:20; John 12:31, 32; Colossians 2:15) triumphing over him in victory. This victory began with God’s promise coming true on the day of Christ’s birth.

Therefore, Genesis 3:15 forms the backbone of our rejoicing on Christmas. The promised seed is finally here to crush the head of the serpent and give us life. Charles Wesley hit the nail right on the head when he composed:

Come, Thou long-expected Jesus,
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us…
Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever.

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From Tamar to Christmas

Last week I indicated that as we approach Christmas, we will look at some stories of Jesus’ descendants which are not beautiful at all. The main aim of this study is to remind us of God’s greatness, grace and faithfulness as we marvel at how God is able to overcome evil with good.

The story of Tamar which is recorded in Genesis 38 interrupts the wonderful story of Joseph.  It is an ugly tale of cheating and unfaithfulness.  Yet from it, we still see God accomplishing His will. Please take your time to read it.

Briefly, Tamar pretends to be a prostitute and seduces her father-in-law, Judah to sleep with her. The child that is born from this adulterous union, Perez, happens to be a great grandfather of Jesus Christ.   Could God have stopped this from happening? Yes, He could. But why did He allow it? He alone knows best.

However, we can still see from the story that God can use the imperfect things of the world to bring out something perfect. Tamar and Judah were sinful and failed miserably to reach God’s standards. But God stooped in his grace and reached out to them and through them brought out a perfect savior. Those who are in this Savior including Tamar and Judah are counted perfect and righteous basing on the Savior’s righteousness. This is the amazing grace of God.

 

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The ‘Roots’ of Christ

Some have accused Christians of always trying to paint a good picture of Christ. These people have even gone to the extreme of ‘exposing negative stories’ about Christ which they say Christians have always kept under the carpet.

However, this is a sad accusation because Christianity or the Bible does not hide anything about Christ including those incidents that seem embarrassing. Therefore, God willing, from this week, as we look forward to Christmas, we will dwell on the genealogy or the descendants of Christ whose life stories are not all that beautiful. These include Tamar who seduced her father-in-law,  Judah, to sleep with her, Rehab who was a prostitute, and Manasseh one of the most evil kings of Judah.

When we read and reflect on the life stories of these people, we are amazed at how God could allow such people to be the descendants of Jesus. It only confirms that God’s ways are not indeed our ways.

Furthermore, the stories of some of these descendants assure us that God’s grace is indeed amazing for it transforms sinners into saints.  These stories also show us that God is not limited or controlled by our sinfulness.  We might not be faithful, but He always remains faithful and he can accomplish his good will even through our unfaithfulness.  We might have evil intentions, but he overcomes them with his goodness.

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