Tag Archives: Christ

An Xmas Rejoinder

 

The first couple years of this blog I published a post on the use of “X” in the place of Christ’s name in the word Christmas.  The argument was less about putting Christ back into Christmas, which would be a little unorthodox since it’s unlikely that Christ was born this time of year, let alone the historic origin of our traditional celebration of Christmas.  Nevertheless, it is certainly within the realm of Christian liberty to celebrate the tradition of Christmas.

However, more and more there is public opposition to the tradition of Christmas and the celebration of Christ’s birth, “X-mas” is perhaps just the most obvious.  As in previous posts on this topic, I must once again humbly disagree with a man and ministry that I largely admire.

In this post, What Does the X in Xmas Mean, Dr. Sproul of Ligonier Ministries annually provides a Christian apologetic on the use of the “X” in X-mas, boiling it down to a simple substitution of the Koine Greek letter Chi (X), the first letter in the word Christ (Christos), in the place of the Christ.  It’s a post that has been shared numerous times by pastors and bloggers over the years with a much larger audience than this one.  Dr. Sproul summarizes, “There’s a long and sacred history of the use of X to symbolize the name of Christ, and from its origin, it has meant no disrespect.”

Having now completed my first year of Greek, just enough to be dangerous and highly irresponsible, my conclusion on this defense of X remains exactly the same as it was in 2009, namely that the majority of those using Xmas have little to zero understanding of the Koine Greek letter chi (X) nor it’s historical function as a representation of the name of Christ (see also Chi-ro).

Case in point, let’s cherry-pick a X-mas news story from today’s headlines, like this one http://www.app.com/story/entertainment/music/2016/12/18/glen-burtnik-brought-xmas-back-new-jersey/95585288/ where a former Styx band member is reigniting a performance known as Xmas Xtravaganza.  Would anyone reasonably conclude that Glenn Burtnik is simply honoring the tradition of recognizing Christ with the Koine Greek representation of Chi (X)?  Hardly.  In fact, I think one would be hard pressed to find any Xmas sales, ads, articles, news, etc. where the use of Xmas was an informed use of the Greek letter “X”, rather than an obvious attempt to omit the name of Christ.

Christ doesn’t need put back in Christmas, at least not the traditional consumerist celebration that we’ve come to call that day.  However, we also need to be aware of society’s overt attempts to dismiss the name of Christ at every opportunity.

When you see Xmas in use, feel free to be disturbed.  Not because Christ has been taken out of Christmas, but because the world hates Christ and will go to any measure to dismiss Him as the Son of God who suffered and died for the salvation of sinners.

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.”  John 15:18

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:9-11

*image credit http://blog.dictionary.com/xmas-christogram/

Bookends to the Gospel of Matthew

 

The Gospel of Matthew, the first in canonical order (New Testament) and 1 of the 3 synoptic Gospels (Mark, Luke), begins in a unique way with the genealogies of our Lord’s humanity highlighting Abraham, David, and the Deportation into Babylon.  These serve as not only significant events in the history of Israel, but also to establish Christ as the offspring of Abraham, heir to the throne of David, and identify him with the nation of Israel.  In verses 18-21 of the first chapter we are given an historical account of the birth of Christ culminating as a fulfillment of the prophet Isaiah,

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).”

There is much to examine in this passage including, at minimum, the fulfillment of the promised Messiah, the virginity of Mary, the divine communication of God, and the meaning of the phrase “God with us”, which is significant for our discussion here.  “God with us” in its context imports all of the Old Testament meaning of God dwelling with His people, going back to the Garden (Gen. 3:8), the blessing promised upon entrance into Canaan (Ex. 29:45; Lev. 26:11-12), and elsewhere (Ezek. 37:27; et.al.).

In the Greek, this phrase, “God with us” is meta (meth) hemon ho Theos, which brings us to the purpose and significance of this brief post.  Matthew, under divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, concludes his gospel with this same phrase, ego meta (meth) humon eimi in Matthew 28:20 which is literally translated “I with you all am” or “I am with you all”.

The significance of these phrases framing the opening and conclusion of this gospel account should be obvious.  Our Lord’s birth is announced by means of fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy, one in which the title given Him is Immanuel, “God with us”.  As if that statement were not strong enough to establish the deity of our Lord, we are given by means of quotation from Him the same phrase, “I am with you all”.  A statement which should not be minimized, but is purposeful in Christ claiming deity for Himself.

This is a crucial point of contention when witnessing to those who deny that Jesus is God.  Often, their arguments are that Christ never claimed that He is God, which of course is false.  Here we have two crystal clear references to His own claim to deity.  First, as shown above, is His substitution of “I am” in the place of “God” in the phrase “will be with you”.

Second, is the meaning of the phrase “I am” (ego eimi), which is developed in far greater detail in the Gospel of John, particularly as he recounts the “I am” phrases spoken by Christ (John 6, 8, 10, 11, 14).  By taking upon Himself this title, I am, Jesus takes upon Himself the meaning of this as well which finds its own development Exodus 3:14, “God said to Moses, “I am who I am.”And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.”  In the verse that follows, we get the name of God that we are accustomed to seeing on the pages of Holy Scripture, “God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.”   Here we have the LORD (all capital letters) standing for God’s divine, covenant name YHWH (pronounced Yah-weh), which is connected to the title “I AM”.  When Christ adopts the title “I AM” He is doing nothing less than taking the name Yahweh for Himself.

In these two short, seemingly inconsequential statements we have barely scratched the surface of the wisdom of God in the revelation of His Son Jesus and the establishment of Him as God in the Flesh, literally God with us.  How often we must give our hearts over with the Apostle Paul to proclaim, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” Rom. 11:33

A Great Light

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” Isaiah 9:2

The Scripture’s great contrast between light and darkness is here on display through the words of the prophet Isaiah concerning, in the near, hope in the midst of the Assyrian invasion, yet in the far, a future greater in hope found in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the context of Isaiah’s prophecy, which like so much of Old Testament prophecy looks toward the future and sees an amalgamation of events (often called prophetic perspective) this prophecy is set in the midst of the coming judgment on Israel as God-ordained punishment for their apostasy from God. The darkness expresses the hopelessness of the current situation, yet the language of Isaiah, “…have seen a great light” is that of the prophetic perfect, used to express the surety of a future event as though it has already happened. Commenting on this passage Calvin writes,

“He speaks of future events in the past tense, and thus brings them before the immediate view of the people, that in the destruction of the city, in their captivity, and in what appeared to be their utter destruction, they may behold the light of God. It may therefore be summed up in this manner: “Even in darkness, nay, in death itself, there is nevertheless good ground of hope; for the power of God is sufficient to restore life to his people, when they appear to be already dead.”[1]

Certainly, a restoration from the hands of Israel’s captors is in view, yet we must not limit our understanding of this prophecy to the events surrounding Israel and Assyria, particularly since this passage is referenced elsewhere.

Written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Gospel of Matthew 4:15-16 cites this passage from Isaiah 9 in the context of Jesus beginning His earthly ministry

“12 Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. 13 And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16 the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” 17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:12-17

This further illumination by the Spirit of God, the Divine Author of Scripture, aids in our understanding of the fullness or fulfillment of the prophecy found in Isaiah, namely that found in the person and work of Jesus Christ as the great light that offers hope in the midst of a darkened world. Turning again to Calvin we read,

“If, therefore, we wish to ascertain the true meaning of this passage, we must bring to our recollection what has been already stated, that the Prophet, when he speaks of bringing back the people from Babylon, does not look to a single age, but includes all the rest, till Christ came and brought the most complete deliverance to his people. The deliverance from Babylon was but a prelude to the restoration of the Church, and was intended to last, not for a few years only, but till Christ should come and bring true salvation, not only to their bodies, but likewise to their souls.”[2]

Christ Himself makes this connection in John 8:12 when He states,

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

In John’s Gospel, this statement is buttressed with the truths about Christ being the Light from chapter 1, verses4-5, 9 and chapter 3:19-21. Our Lord’s declaration that He is light has profound biblical meaning. Primarily, it asserts His deity bringing to mind such Old Testament declarations such as Exodus 13:21, where the pillar of fire led the way for the Israelites in the wilderness; Psalm 27:1 “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear”; Micah 7:8; Isaiah 60:20; as well as 1 John 1:5. The declaration of light is a declaration of purity and holiness, in which there is no shadow or defect (James 1:17).  Additionally, several Old Testament passages assert that God’s Word is light (Ps. 119:105; Prov. 6:23) adding to the profundity of John 1:1.

Secondarily, by stating He is light, Christ assumes the role that God had intended for Israel to occupy as a city on a hill whose light was to shine forth to the world, yet because of their disobedience failed to properly fulfill the mission of God. Therefore, God has appointed His True Servant Israel, His Son, to go forth as a light unto the nations bringing salvation to the ends of the world. Isaiah 42:6; 49:6

This advent season, may our eyes be drawn to the Light of the world. May we realize that He alone can shine forth in a world of darkness. This Light alone possesses the light of life. Walking in spiritual darkness, dead in our trespasses and sins is a hopeless and dire situation that leaves us under the wrath of God and destined for the experience of His everlasting judgment. May we look toward the light, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and see Him as our only hope. Surety in a world of darkness and a beacon for all who come to Him in repentance and faith.

 

 

[1] Calvin, John. Calvin’s Commentaries Vol. VII Isaiah 1-32, Baker 2005, pg. 298.

[2] Calvin, pg. 299