Here’s a question that was put to me recently about the interaction of Jesus’ divine and human natures:
Question: Since Jesus, as the Son of God and Second Person of the Trinity, is coequal with God the Father (and of course with the Holy Spirit as well) and since God is omniscient, how can the Son not know the timing of the future in Matthew 24:36? “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” (ESV)
Answer: The conventional theological explanation is that because Jesus emptied himself of the right to use certain divine attributes (Philippians 2:6ff), he therefore voluntarily put himself in a position where he limited lots of things about his divine nature in order to be truly human.
For example, he was limited to being in one place at a time, he was limited in that he had to eat, sleep, etc. It is natural therefore for him to be limited in knowledge as well, though that seems to have been periodically overridden at times when he had special insight into people’s thinking, etc.
I hope this sheds some light on the issue.
Lessons from a familiar holiday story
Isn’t it amazing how things often don’t turn out as planned? You think things through very carefully and get key steps set up ahead of time, with all details considered. Finally, you are ready to go. Then, without warning, something unforeseen changes the situation and all your effort seems for naught. How could this happen? Maybe it is a catastrophe affecting not only yourself, but others as well. It may be that someone you were counting on lets you down. Either way, your plans are no longer possible—at least in the form you intended.
For most of us, this causes frustration and depression, but it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, when things don’t run along smoothly according to your plans, it can be the gateway to much greater blessing that you had previously imagined.
Take for instance the case of a young carpenter. He and his bride-to-be are making plans to settle down in a small city and begin life as a family. They are from devoutly religious families, so their plans include a deep desire to serve God. The wedding, the preparation of a home, their dreams for the future—all make life exciting. But suddenly everything changes. Before they are married, the young man’s bride becomes noticeably pregnant. And, if this isn’t problem enough given their culture and religious upbringing, the prospective groom knows beyond any doubt that he is not the father of the child.
She has told him and her parents a far-fetched story about being visited by an angel and told that God is going to give her a supernaturally-conceived child. But who would believe such a story? Most people would draw the natural conclusion that she is either a liar or somehow deranged in her thinking. So, scratch one wedding. But then, the prospective groom is also visited by the same angel. He is reassured that his fiancée’s story is true. The wedding is on again, but under much different circumstances.
The plot thickens. As the time draws near for the birth of the child, there is another drastic change of plan. The government of the nation which has conquered and occupied their people has ordered a census. This is to be carried out by mandating that everyone return to their ancestral towns to be counted. So, late in Mary’s pregnancy, the couple makes a hasty and extremely arduous journey to a distant city where they have no connections. This would be like asking all of us to return to the place where our paternal ancestors originated generations ago. In my case, it would involve traveling back to a small town just south of Rotterdam in Holland. Few of us would be more than outsiders in such places.
Upon arrival, the carpenter and his young wife find that Bethlehem is swamped with visitors. This is because the family of their distant ancestor, King David, was a large and prosperous one. Therefore, lots and lots of their remote cousins have also been forced in this journey. That is why every available room for rent as already been taken. We don’t know how long Joseph and Mary spent asking around and receiving no help, but it must have been a relief when some kind-hearted person offered a stable where the desperate couple could shelter. It was in these less-than-ideal circumstances where Mary gave birth to the baby who would change the world.
Plans change; lives are dramatically affected; and yet God is sovereign. I often wonder why God asks people to do amazing and difficult things and then, seemingly, gives few details about how the plan is to be carried out. The Bible is full of such cases. Undoubtedly this requires living by faith, but I’m sure that Mary and Joseph would have appreciated at least a rough outline of what they would have to face along the way. In my study of the Bible, I have found that God typically gives the overall direction and the promises to go along with it. But he leaves it up to us to navigate our way through the details of fulfilling that objective. And, when it all seems impossible, he steps in at crucial moments to orchestrate circumstances and motivate people to make possible the fulfilling of his plan.
If you are experiencing a major setback in life or a significant re-arrangement of your neatly-ordered future, it may be well to remember this record of some people who experienced much the same thing. Mary and Joseph trusted God. They accepted his plan in their lives and believed that, if he called them to fulfill a certain purpose, he would also provide the means to do so. In their faith and obedience, they experienced blessing themselves and were the means of unimaginable blessing for the rest of us.
So, trust God: he will never let you down. He may not give you the detailed road map you desire as you follow him through the twists and turns of your journey, but he will see to it that you arrive at the destination. Of course, ultimately, the true destination is home, not to the inadequate city of a remote ancestor, but to the eternal and unspeakably wonderful city of God our Father!
Are you ready for the holidays? There is shopping to be done, cards to send, meals to plan and a thousand preparations to make this time of year. The month of December is usually a very happy time of year. But amid all the flurry of activity, what exactly is this thing we blithely refer to as the holiday season?
With just a little examination, the term holiday itself reveals much of its own meaning: holidays are holy days. These seasons are times we have set aside for certain sacred purposes. For instance:
Family. God has ordained the family as the basic unit of society. Families exist for the purposes of loving, nurturing, encouraging and accepting their members. Because they were created by God, for these vital functions, families are sacred, and therefore figure heavily into any holiday celebration.
Rest. What is holy about rest? In the Old Testament portion of the Bible, God himself prescribes regular times and seasons for the cessation of labor and the keeping of festivals. Because God designed human society for both productive labor and restful celebration, to stop our working and spend a few days in relaxation and enjoyment is a sacred activity.
Worship. Obviously, holy days imply a renewal of our contact with God in some way. Many churches hold special services during the holiday season. Family worship is also a highly appropriate way to express our devotion and gratitude to our Creator. Personal worship, including a time of Bible study, reflection and prayer can go a long way in this regard.
So, let’s enjoy the holiday season! Spend time with family if you can. Relax and change the pace of life for a few days. By all means make it a point to come into God’s presence through worship. May your holiday season be bright and joyous.
(Santa is No Substitute)
I am not one of those people who are opposed to Santa Claus, the Christmas tree or the yuletide spirit. Personally, I think that it can be a wonderful thing when families and friends enjoy the American and European traditions of Christmas at this time of year. Our family has always had a tree in the house in the weeks before Christmas Day, and it would be a yearly event to decorate it and the rest of the house with all sorts of festive nick-nacks. Over the years, my kids enjoyed waiting for the coming of Santa on Christmas Eve and, on Christmas morning, opening the gifts left under the tree in his name. It is my belief that traditions are hard enough to come by as it is in early Twenty-first Century America. It would be a pity to lose these types of happy memories and excitement during the Christmas season.
However, it should be remembered that, for followers of Jesus, the focus of the season has always been the incarnation of the Son of God. The Christmas season is meant to be a strong object-lesson in God’s personal care and love for each of us since he made the unfathomable sacrifice and took the immense trouble to take on flesh and blood and live on this globe just as we do. The manger, not the fir tree, is the central symbol of what we celebrate.
Though the mixing of Christian and traditional elements in the same holiday is confusing to some, many people can maintain this dual celebration without much effort. The trick is to enjoy the trimmings without losing the focal point. So, let’s sing Jolly Old Saint Nick and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Let’s feast, send cards and decorate the house. But let us never forget to bow our knees in awe and with a deep sense of gratitude for the birth of God’s Son into the world. Without that, we would indeed be lost and hopeless. No amount of Yuletide cheer could ever substitute for the birth of the baby in Bethlehem!
If I have any regrets related to the years in which my wife and I were raising our four children, the biggest would be that I was not paying attention. Melinda has asked me several times in the past couple of years if I remember one incident or another in the lives of our children when they were small. My answer has sometimes been, “No, not really.”
Of course, she was much more focused on their day-to-day upbringing than I was. I was a busy solo pastor of a smaller church, trying to care for and build a congregation in the midst of acquiring property and constructing buildings. The truth is, I do remember many things about my kids from those days. They were cute and funny and we had some amazing and sometimes hilarious times. But my memories are in the form of snapshots, not video, and it is difficult for me to reconstruct some of what went on more than twenty years ago.
I was always focused on the future–the next Sunday’s sermon, the upcoming business meeting, the next step in the building program, dealing with someone’s urgent concerns, etc. The actual “now” was almost always sacrificed on the altar of the near or distant future. I suspect that my situation as a pastor is not all that different from many people whose lives are goal-oriented.
Recently, I have been in a minor crisis about God’s will for my life. For the past several years I have made my living as a part time adult ministries pastor, part time missions executive and part time college instructor. Talk about fragmentation! In all of this multi-tasking, I have begun to seek God’s will for a more focused future. I have prayed, “Father, which direction should I pursue? Where should I be five years from now (if you permit me to remain on earth that long)? What is the best use of my training, talents and experience?” Through months of prayer, I have received the same types of answers most sincere believers receive: impressions and difficult-to-interpret circumstances. This has led me to ponder the bigger question of what it means to live by faith in a providential God.
In this quest for personal direction, it has dawned on me that my need for more specific guidance is heavily influenced by my American culture. We Americans and other Westerners have come to believe that we have a certain right to know what is happening to us so that we can make informed choices affecting the outcome of our lives. After all, if we are going to be pursuing life, liberty and happiness it is important that we have at our disposal as much information as possible about what may lie ahead.
But as I have thought about it, there is really nothing in scripture which supports this assumption. On the one hand, in several places Proverbs teaches the wisdom of at least tentative planning. Yet on the other, James 4:13-16 plainly says that we are not to be presumptuous about either the ultimate wisdom of our plans or our ability to carry them out,“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil.”
Scripture teaches that, though the making of goals is wise, goals should be made with enough flexibility so that God may direct us in ways we do not have the wisdom to plan for. Practically, this means that thinking about the future should never overshadow living in the present. The truth is, we do not know enough about God’s specific purposes for our lives to do that much advance planning. But we do know enough about God’s will to live full and abundant lives. Some things the Bible teaches very plainly and simply: we must honor God with the “now” each of us is given. We must love and bless people around us. We must fully enjoy God’s good gifts–family, friends, experiences, possessions. And any planning we may legitimately do for the future should be done with these very types of things in mind. In other words, we should get our neurotic fingers off the fast forward button and hit play.