The Christ Community, Part 6: The Church as the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-31)

The most prominent image for the church in the New Testament is “the Body of Christ.” There are about 15 references to it from Matthew to Revelation. The image implies that believers are to be, do, and say what Christ would be, do, and say if he were physically with us today. For three and a half decades, Jesus lived on this planet as the Son of God—deity in human flesh. In his earthly body, he went around preaching the good news of the kingdom of God, loving and serving those for whom he came. 

•  With his eyes he saw the physical and spiritual needs around him.

•  With his ears he heard the cries of the hurting and the oppressed.

•  With his heart he felt compassion toward those who needed the grace of God.

•  With his feet he went to their side to be with them.

•  With his hands he touched them, fed them, and healed them.

•  With his voice he spoke God’s word to them

In time he died on Calvary’s cross for the sins of the world. He was buried in an unused tomb, and on the third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and is now seated at the Father’s right hand. 

On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of Christ—came back to earth indwell his people and constitute his church. So, while God came to the world in Jesus in a body 2,000 years ago, he now comes to the world in his new body, the church.

•  We are the eyes of Jesus on earth.

•  We are the ears of Jesus on earth.

•  We are the heart of Jesus on earth.

•  We are the feet of Jesus on earth.

•  We are the hands of Jesus on earth.

•  We are the voice of Jesus on earth.

Believers are the means through which Christ expresses himself and ministers to the world today. In short, the church of Christ is the body of Christ on earth. How in the world could we ever fulfill such a task? We start by staying connected to the head of the body—Jesus Christ himself.

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

“Big Enough to Be Small” (Philippians 2:5-11)

People don’t usually look for ways to get demoted. They try to go up the ladder of success not down. But if the eternal Son of God had a birthday on that first Christmas, it was a voluntary choice for demotion. It was the ultimate pay cut. It was the ultimate story of riches to rags. And he did it willingly. The Creator willingly became part of his creation. The Master Artist willingly became part of his painting. The Eternal One willingly became part history and subject to time. The One who is called in John’s gospel “the Light” took off his robe of light and wrapped himself in skin, winding up in Bethlehem’s manger two thousand years ago. The Apostle Paul’s Carmen Christi (“Hymn to Christ”) in Philippians 2:5-11 describes just how low he went. And then how high. It’s a summary of his full journey. 

The Swiss theologian Emil Bruner was the first to suggest that we can represent this three-fold movement of our Lord’s ministry using the mathematical formula of a parabola (y = x2), a journey from glory to humiliation, and back to glory again. This Christmas Eve sermon focuses on the first part of Jesus’ parabola. “For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven.” It’s hard to get our minds around such a mystery. Deity in diapers? Elohim with elbows and eyebrows? How can this be?  T. S. Eliot described the newborn Christ as “the word within a word, unable to speak a word.” In Disney’s Aladdin, Genie (Robin Williams) described his own spatial paradox like this: “Cosmic, phenomenal power, itty bitty living space!” That was even more true of Jesus! He was big enough to be small. Indeed, he made the crucial decision to have a birthday in Bethlehem, leaving the splendors of heaven to be with us in our distress. 

After his atoning death on the cross, God the Son rose from the dead to give his people a “new birth” day. “Born to raise the sons of earth. Born to give them second birth.” Indeed, God wanted so much for us to become part of his family that he became part of ours. And now he lives inside his people by the Holy Spirit. Lest you think you’re not worthy to have Christ come and live inside of you, consider all the dark and dreadful places he’s already been, all the places he’s already chosen to go: The dark womb of a teenager. The rough manger of Bethlehem. The red-light district of Nazareth. The corrupt temple in Jerusalem. The flogging post of a Roman torture yard. The bloody cross of Mount Calvary. The dark, damp ledge of the garden tomb. Do you think Jesus could be surprised by any dirt or darkness he might find in your in your own heart? No—that dirt and darkness is precisely why he came. “Call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins.” Give him your sin, and he will give you his divine life. Merry Christmas.

Sermon Resources

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

God Has Landed: Harry Potter and Jesus

God has landed! Right in a manger. Right on top of cow spit and barnyard bacteria. Jesus came a long way to save us. Two thousand years ago, the eternal Son of God stepped across the stars of the universe to become a zygote in the womb of the Virgin Mary. And then he was born as one of us. “Manhood and deity in perfect harmony—the Man who is God,” wrote Graham Kendrick. 

Christmas, then, is the ultimate display of meekness and majesty in one person. “Glory to God in the highest,” was the angelic response. They easily could have said, “Glory to God in lowest,” too. God is with us now in the person of Jesus Christ. On earth.

Magi from the east were among the first to welcome him. Following the natal star, they set out on a journey to find the newborn king. I have a hunch it was more than curiosity that drew this caravan of dignitaries and polymaths to Jesus. It was God himself. They saw him at work in the sky—speaking their language—and they wanted to go meet with him. 

No doubt they connected the Hebrew prophecies left in their own towns during Israel’s exile with the celestial phenomenon they were observing. God is beautifully sneaky that way. We often hear it said, “Wise men still seek him,” but it was God who was seeking them. Sometimes he stirs things up, even to the point of rearranging his universe because he has something vitally important to tell us. 

Are we listening? 

The Magi were listening, and that’s why they traveled hundreds of miles across the desert to go see the newborn Christ. They were men of wisdom and learning. They were into math, medicine, astronomy, and human nature. Some of them were superstitious. We get our word “magic” from their title. Call them “wizards” if you like. It was the cast of Harry Potter who came to see Jesus.

For the most part, Magi just wanted to know the Power behind the universe. They pondered the great questions of life: “Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going? Why is there something rather than nothing?” And because the Magi were so into the stars, God put a fantastic light in the sky on that first Christmas to get their attention—a star unlike anything else they had ever seen before. 

We’re fascinated by the natal star, but a good sign always points away from itself to something else, so Matthew doesn’t go into detail about it. Besides, it’s not the stars that direct the course of history, but the Maker of the stars. He’s the director of the show. And it’s a transformational show for hungry souls on a quest for spiritual reality. Indeed, God tends to meet people at the level of their deepest longings. G. K. Chesterton put it like this: 

Men are homesick in their homes 
And strangers under the sun…
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where Christmas was begun.

If the Magi teach us anything, it’s that it’s never enough for us to just be amazed at the wonders of God; we have to set out on the journey and follow him. Our calling is not just to stand in awe of creation but to get to know the Creator. 

God wants everyone to come and worship his Son. He wants you to worship his Son.

Even if you’re a wizard.


Merry Christmas from This New Life. May God richly bless you this day and always. Feel free to contact me if you’d like to know more about who Jesus is and how you can have a personal relationship with him.

Christmas Bonus. My son Andrew took Coverton’s Christmas remake of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and aligned it with scenes from the 2014 Son of God series. We showed it last night at the Christmas Eve service. The finished product is quite impactful. (Thanks, Drew!) Enjoy!

Image Credits: shutterstok.com; shepherdthoughts.com; countryliving.com.

Impossible Journey: Our Down-to-Earth God

From majesty to manger. Heaven to hay. Blessedness to Bethlehem. The eternal Christ came all the way down. The trip no doubt was long and difficult. In fact, it was impossible. An infinite journey by definition can never reach its destination. Yet Jesus entered our realm and arrived safely on that first Christmas Day. 

We call it the Incarnation—the enfleshment of God. “Remaining what he was, he became what he was not,” said Gregory of Nazianzus. “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,” wrote Charles Wesley. “Hail th’incarnate Deity.” Theologians have tried to articulate it, but maybe it’s better left a mystery to be adored than a concept to be explained. 

After all, how could we ever fathom stepping out of eternity and entering into time? How could we ever comprehend coming from a place of pure light and entering into a womb of utter darkness? How could we ever wrap our minds around leaving the world of invisible spirit and entering into the world of visible flesh? Christmas is the profoundest of all God’s miracles.

Maybe a better question than how he did it is why he did it. Scripture gives us many answers to that question, so perhaps we can summarize them all like this: God wanted so much for us to become part of his family that he became part of ours. That’s why he took the impossible journey—for us.

Athanasius said of Christ, “He became what we are, so that he might make us what he is,” that is, children of God bearing the image of God in all of his beauty, truth, and goodness. Here. Now. On earth. Indeed, Jesus is our down-to-earth God.

Moreover, Jesus kept going lower and lower to serve us while he was here. Yes, he descended from heaven to earth in his incarnation. But then he descended to the lowest point of the earth in his baptism—the Jordan Rift Valley. Then he fell to his knees before the crucifixion to wash his disciples’ feet in the Upper Room and pray for strength in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Finally, he descended below the earth in his death and burial on our behalf. Love keeps going lower and lower to reach the lowest. Love bends down to lift up the fallen. 

In his book, Mortal Lessons, Dr. Richard Seltzer, a surgeon, tells of a poignant moment in the hospital when he caught a glimpse of this kind of love. It was a love that reoriented his entire life. He writes:

I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve—the one to the muscles of her mouth, has been severed, and she will be like this from now on. Oh, the surgeon had carefully followed the curve of her flesh; I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor from her cheek, he had to cut that little nerve. 

“Will my mouth always be like this?” the woman asks. “Yes, it will always be so. The nerve has been cut.” She nods and is silent.

Her young husband is in the room, and he smiles, and he looks at his wife with a love so absolutely generous that it stuns the surgeon to silence. All at once, I know who he is, and I understand and instinctively lower my gaze, because one is not bold in an encounter with [such people]. The groom bends down to kiss her mouth. And I am so close that I can see how he twists his lips to accommodate hers.

Here is a groom not put off by his bride’s unfortunate distortion, but one who bends down to meet it, reassuring her of his abiding love. How much more does our heavenly groom do that for his people?

Two thousand years ago, Jesus bent all the way down to meet us where we are, kissing a broken planet disfigured by sin. He did so to reassure us of his abiding love.

Gregory was right. Remaining what he was, Jesus became what he was not. Knowing this, how could we ever remain what we are? 

Image Credits: shutter stock.com.

Divine Hospitality: God at Home in a Fractured World

“Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays.”
– Al Stillman


No doubt you’ve heard this line from the 1954 Christmas song by Al Stillman and Robert Allen: “Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays.” It was covered most famously by Perry Como and later the Carpenters, and has remained a holiday favorite for nearly seven decades. But did you realize there’s good theology in its message? 

In the birth of Jesus, God made this fractured world his own home. Indeed, the incarnation of Christ was the ultimate display of divine hospitality. On that first Christmas, God set a table for broken people everywhere, inviting them to come feast at Bethlehem’s manger. And it’s an all you can eat buffet!

After all, as noted previously, this is the God of “immeasurably more” than we can ask or imagine. Jesus, the Living Bread, came down from heaven to nourish everyone starving for the love of God. (Quite significantly, Bethlehem means “house of bread.”) When Christ was here in the flesh…

  • His life showed us how to live. 
  • His death made us ready to die. 
  • His resurrection gave us new life—and the confidence that, in him, all will be well in the end. 

At the end of God’s cosmic story is a new heaven and new earth. Eden, our original home, will be restored—only better than before. All God’s people will finally be made whole (and holy) forever. No more tears. No more sorrow. No more pain. No more shattered dreams and broken relationships. No more deadly diseases and debilitating disappointments. No more night. God’s immeasurable love in Christ heals beyond our imagining and invites us to come home to stay. With him. Forever.

Through his Spirit living in us, Jesus is still at home with us today. That’s why believers are called to extend his hospitality to others in our day. We’re his hands and feet on planet earth. The Christian faith is an embodied faith; we seek to live what we proclaim, even though we fall short many times. We seek to live as “earthen vessels” containing the divine “treasure” (2 Cor 4:7).

That’s exactly what Mary was. She was the original host of God’s Christmas hospitality. For nine months she literally was the first earthly home that Jesus had. But how could she possibly host that which cannot be contained? Solomon had a similar question. “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!” (1 Kgs 8:27). And yet, the God of “immeasurably more” became “measurably less” at Christmas. He did dwell on earth—as a baby! 

It’s hard to get our minds around such a mystery. Deity in diapers? Elohim with elbows and eyebrows? How can this be? T. S. Eliot described the newborn Christ as “the word within a word, unable to speak a word.” In Disney’s Aladdin, Genie (Robin Williams) described his own spatial paradox like this: “Cosmic, phenomenal power, itty bitty living space!” That was even more true of Jesus. He left the splendors of heaven to be with us in our distress—at great cost to himself. Christmas, then, was the ultimate transition—divine to human, heaven to earth, riches to rags, power to powerlessness—all of it to invite us to our true home with God. 

As we celebrate God’s hospitality at Christmas, we can rightly sing, “For the holidays, you can’t beat home, sweet home.” That very impulse comes from the God who made us, and then became one of us in Christ.

So, welcome to Jesus.

And welcome home.

Image Credits: shutterstockcom; wallpapers.fansshare.com; theconversation.com; studios.vidangel.com/the-chosen/.

Jesus, the Preemie

When our kids were younger, we always wanted to help them remember that Christmas was about the birth of Jesus. Everything else—the gifts, the lights, the dinner, the travel, the parties—was a celebration of that. To assist in this effort, we would set up the nativity scene with everything in it—except baby Jesus.

Every morning leading up to Christmas Day, I would take them past the manger and ask, “Is baby Jesus here yet?” It created a sense of anticipation, the kind for which Advent is well known. Finally, when the big day arrived, and we all saw that Jesus was now in his manger, we could celebrate, exchange gifts, and make merry. 

I suppose I made it a bit worse by insisting we read Matthew 2:1-12 around the tree before the first gift was opened. It takes less than two minutes to do so, but eager kids can say with their faces, “Dad, we already know the story,” even if, out of respect, they don’t use words. Message received. But we always read the story, anyway. We still do, astonished that it’s Jesus’ birthday, but we get the gifts. The very practice itself gives us a whiff of the gospel.

Last year gave us a dilemma. The family rule says, “No gifts until baby Jesus is in the manger, and no baby Jesus is in the manger until Christmas Day.” But family and work schedules required that we hold our gift exchange on Christmas Eve. What to do? We actually had a serious theological discussion about it!

I proposed that we consider Jesus a preemie. That is, he would come earlier than expected that year, allowing us to celebrate a day in advance. Would that be bending the rule too much? Some thought it did, so I offered an alternative rationale. In Jewish reckoning, the new day begins at sundown, so we could legitimately hasten the arrival of Christmas by about six hours—just what we needed to make the holiday schedule work.

Problem solved. And the family rule stayed intact. 

Silliness aside, those ponderings got me to thinking about the non-romantic aspects of Jesus’ birth—the parts that don’t make it onto the gold-foil Christmas cards with glittered edges. Things like diapers. Placenta. Giving birth 90 miles away from your home. Strange visitors and bug-eyed prophets showing up out of the blue to gawk at your baby. Political machinations behind the scenes putting your child at risk. The first Christmas was no picnic. 

Jesus was born “in the fullness of time” (Gal 4:4), but Mary probably didn’t have a specific due date in mind. Did Jesus—from her perspective—come earlier or later than expected? Was he, in fact, born prematurely? When he was born, how much did he weigh? Did he have hair? Was he jaundiced? What would his Apgar score be had he been born in our day? We don’t know for sure, but the questions themselves highlight the earthiness of it all. His conception was miraculous, but his birth took place in a most ordinary way. 

As such, Jesus stands in solidarity with babies of all kinds, including preemies. Including those who, like me, were unwanted at birth and placed in an orphanage from day one. Whenever I see a TV commercial for a children’s hospital, I think about emptying my bank account and sending them everything I have. “Jesus loves the little children. All the children of the world.” He used to be one.

As noted in a previous post, the Incarnation puts me on overload. I can never fully get my mind around it. Thankfully, I don’t have to. I can just enjoy what God has done for us, and try to love him in return. Moreover, I can live with less-than-perfect devotionals that have already been written for this year. Be looking for them toward the end of next week if you like.

  • “Divine Hospitality: God at Home in a Fractured World”
  • “Impossible Journey: Our Down-to-Earth God”
  • “God Has Landed: Harry Potter and Jesus”

Until then, be a child at heart. For of such is the kingdom of God (Luke 18:16).

Image Credits: renestance.com; pexels.com.

Mary Comforts Eve, Part 5: The Hands, Feet, and Faces

Today we conclude our reflection on Grace Remington’s “Mary Comforts Eve,” a simple sketch with profound theological messaging. In Part 1 we looked at the picture without comment, scanning the piece and letting it have its impact on us. In Part 2 we looked at the encounter in general, noting the significance of these two women meeting in the presence of Christ. In Part 3 we looked at the three types of fruit presented in the sketch, two of which are visible and one of which is not. In Part 4 we looked at the artist’s strategic use of color and how each one telegraphs important spiritual truths. In this last part, we look briefly at the hands, feet, and faces of the two women. They, too, tell a story.

Garrett Johnson has noted, “We find Eve; that is, we find ourselves, walking along our path, tripping upon the serpent’s scales, dolefully latching onto our symbols of self-satisfaction and divine pretensions.” Johnson is perceptive in his assessment of the fallen matriarch. A similar and contrasting observation can be made of Mary. She clings to nothing; instead, her hands are free to gently caress the one who desperately needs her Son, whom she will soon share with the world. Indeed, all of Eve’s children need her Son, and God brings him to us as promised though this young obedient servant of his.

The two women make contact through look and touch, banishing the isolation and alienation that often accompany sin. Yet there is a hint of reluctance on Eve’s part, so the scene has begun, but it is not yet completely resolved—leaving us to contemplate her response to Christ. And ours. 

Specifically, Eve’s right arm takes a defensive posture, as if she were trying to cover herself, even while holding onto the forbidden fruit. The bend in her arm forms a V, one of the universal symbols of women. Moreover, this V creates an arrow pointing down toward the serpent, which is entwined around her legs. Despite the entanglement, Eve is able to walk, though it is clearly difficult for her to do so. Her journey is encumbered every step of the way by the enemy, but the mother of the redeemer now stands before her. Consequently, Eve is stepping in the direction of hope—but not without assistance.

Eve’s left hand is touching Mary’s belly, but only because Mary has apparently pulled it toward the child, overcoming Eve’s hesitation. Her reluctance is no doubt rooted in her sense of shame and unworthiness. Mary knows, however, that it’s precisely for such people that Jesus has come. Confidently, then, she helps Eve touch the one who will undo the effects of her cosmic treason.

Additionally, Mary gently strokes Eve’s cheek with her right hand, giving her assurance that all will be well. The promised deliverer, “the seed of the woman,” has finally come. Jesus will take her shame and nakedness to himself on the cross, and in the process, his “heel” will be “bruised,” as the prophecy says. Crucifixion is ugly business, but no longer will Eve need to bear the weight of her own sin and all the calamity it unleashed on the world, for the world’s sin bearer is now here.

Mary, of course is stomping on the head of the serpent, rendering it impotent in the presence of the gestating Christ. This dramatic act portrays the protoeuangelion of Genesis 3:15, where God judges the serpent with these words: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” 

Protestants need not object that Mary is the one crushing the serpent’s head in this scene because: (1) Jesus will do exactly that in his death, burial, and resurrection; and (2) Jesus will give his followers authority to do the same. As Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Rom 16:20; emphasis mine). Believers will share in the crushing because Jesus did the neutralizing of satanic authority: “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Col 2:15). Consequently, Eve is able to drop the forbidden fruit and step into the future with freedom, confidence, and joy. Will she do so? Will we?

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the sketch is the contrast of expressions. Eve’s face is crestfallen, downcast, and ashamed. She blushes profusely because of the humiliation that comes from having her sin exposed to the world. It’s difficult for her to look up, although she clearly tries to do so, daring to hope that Mary’s child might offer the relief her soul so desperately needs.

Mary’s gaze is priceless. She smiles gently at Eve, knowing full well that her child is the hope of the world and the remedy for all its miseries. She conveys no sense of judgment, haughtiness, or condescension toward Eve, only love. Her eyes are wider than Eve’s because she knows from the angel exactly who this child is and what he has come to do. Eve is still in the process of discovery, so her face is not yet relieved of all its agony, nor is she yet able to look at Mary directly.

King David had a similar experience. In his prayer of confession to the Lord over his sin with Bathsheba, he pleaded to God, “Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity” (Ps 51:9). So ashamed was he of his sin that he asked God to stop noticing it, something he was unable to do himself (cf. Ps 51:3). But as soon as the king made that request of God, he virtually reversed course and cried out, “Do not cast me from your presence (literally, “your face”) or take your Holy Spirit from me” (Ps 51:11). Did he want God’s face to stay or go?

The crisis was devastating to David. In v. 9, he wanted God to hide his face from his sin, but in v. 11, he didn’t want God to hide his face from him. The dilemma was acute. If God chose to look on David’s sin, it would produce in him a deep sense of unbearable shame; if God chose not to look on him at all, it would produce in him a deep sense of awful abandonment. Neither option was pleasing to David, and his only hope was that God would somehow find a way to cut the Gordian knot of unacceptable choices. The knot is finally cut by Mary’s child, who grew up and became “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). 

I, too, know the shameful blush that comes from sinning against God and wounding others—precious people made in his image who deserved better from me. Maybe you know that feeling, too. We cannot undo our own treason against God, but Jesus can. Be assured that the grace of God in Christ is greater than your failures. Humbly accept his gift and turn from what made it necessary in the first place. If your face is downcast in shame, humiliated by your own sin, dare to look at Christ by faith this Christmas. You’re why he came. 

We’re why he came—sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. As the old carol says, Jesus came “to save us all from Satan’s power, when we are gone astray.” Indeed, he came to be “the glory and the lifter of [our] head” (Ps 3:3) so that we could look God in the eye again, stepping into the future with freedom, confidence, and joy. He came so the ancient blessing given to God’s people could fully and finally be true:

The Lord bless you and keep you; 
the Lord make his face shine upon you 
and be gracious to you; 
the Lord turn his face toward you 
and give you peace (Num 6:24-26).

Amen.

Part 1: The Gasp
Part 2: The Encounter
Part 3: The Fruit
Part 4: The Colors
Part 5: The Hands, Feet, and Faces

Image Credits: elledecor.com; illustratedprayer.org.

Mary Comforts Eve, Part 4: The Colors

We continue our reflection on Grace Remington’s “Mary Comforts Eve,” the portrayal of a hypothetical encounter between the two main mothers of Scripture—the mother of the human race and the mother of the new human race. The descendants of the former are spiritually broken and stand in need of redemption; the offspring of the latter is spiritually perfect and thus stands able to serve as humanity’s redeemer. The colors in the sketch assist the artist in telling the story.

Eve is covered in her own beautiful brown hair, and brown is the color of the earth. In fact, the garden floor in this sketch is also brown. It’s the earth from which Adam was created by God. Eve, who was derived from Adam, was therefore made of the same “stuff” as Adam. As such, Eve is of the earth, and to the earth she will return in death because of her sin (Gen 3:19).

On a side note, what Eve is wearing underneath her hair is not immediately apparent in the sketch, but Scripture tells us it would have been the garment of skin that God had made for her so her shame and nakedness could be covered. God replaced the garment of leaves she made with her own hands with a more suitable covering made by his own (Gen 3:21). The theological point is that salvation is never rooted in human effort; it is always rooted in divine grace. Self-salvation is no salvation at all.

And do note that it was God who drew first blood on the planet, not Cain. God sacrificed the life of one of his own creatures so that Eve could be spared the imminent death sentence she rightly deserved. Somewhere in the garden, a bloody carcass lay dead because of Eve’s sin (and God’s mercy in covering that sin). 

Mary is covered in a garment of snowy white, which is the color of purity. In Catholic theology, Mary’s purity is due to her own “immaculate conception” in her mother’s womb, preserving her from spiritual depravity. In Protestant theology, however, Mary is a member of the fallen human race like any other woman. As such, she needs a Savior, too (cf. Luke 1:47). Her purity comes from the fact that “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). I hold to the latter view, as the former is a late theological development with no biblical warrant. 

In any event, the white garment signifies that just as Mary is made pure by the gracious presence of Christ in her, so the fruit of Mary’s womb, Jesus, can make Eve and her descendants pure, too—but only through the cross, which also makes an appearance in the sketch.

In addition to her white robe, Mary is also draped in a blue head scarf, and blue is the color of the skies and/or heavens. She herself is not from heaven, but she carries the one who is—Jesus, “the man from heaven” (1 Cor 15:14-49). Ominously, her headscarf forms a crown in the shape of a cross, which corresponds to the awful prophecy Simeon gave Mary just after the birth of Jesus: “And a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:35). 

Eve’s “crown,” on the other hand, is earthy brown—a row of curls made by her own tainted fingers. It’s a hint, perhaps, at the crown of thorns that will go on to encircle the head of Christ in his atoning work on the cross. But notice further that the blue cross seems to flow like living water down Mary’s shoulders and back, directly toward the head of the serpent. The crafty beast will soon get what’s coming to him.

The fair skin of the women is not historically accurate. They would have been much browner in tone, Easterners as they were. I suspect the fair skin represents an application of the universal biblical story to the specific race of the artist—an acceptable practice if applied across the board with equal acceptance. That is, were the artist non-Caucasian, Eve and Mary might well be portrayed in that artist’s race, too. “Red, and yellow, black, and white—they are precious in his sight.”

The garden arch is predominantly green, which speaks of life, abundance, and divine goodness, a theme discussed in the previous post. Moreover, the archway is lush with ruddy-yellow fruit, an indication of the kindness, grace, and provisions of the generous God who gave it. He delights in giving good gifts to his children. The single forbidden fruit in Eve’s right hand is solid red, distinguishing it from the copious good fruit made available to her throughout Eden. The serpent is green, too, because it’s a living creature, but it also features dark splotches, an indication of its sinister intentions toward God’s treasured child.

Best of all, the encounter takes place in a yellow-gold light, one that illuminates the entire scene. This color can represent both royalty and divinity, so the stage is awash in the presence of God. That presence envelops both Mary and Eve. Moreover, the in utero Christ is “Emmanuel,” God with us. The point is that God is here. He is in this scene despite the presence of the sinner and the serpent. He has not been put off. He has not abandoned his people.

The implication is that God is with us in our moments of failure and shame (as represented by Eve) as well as our moments of faithfulness and obedience (as represented by Mary). He does not run away. Rather, he pursues us with his “goodness and mercy…all the days of our lives” (Ps 23:6). 

That pursuit took Jesus to another garden—the Garden of Gethsemane, where he “prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). Quite significantly, the first blood shed by Christ in his Passion was not drawn by human hands (cf. Gen 3:21). He bled freely of his own accord in the garden before placing himself into the hands of his captors. In other words, he had already given what his tormentors would claim they had taken (cf. John 10:17-18). 

God sacrificed the life of his only Son so that we could be covered by him and spared the imminent death sentence we rightly deserved, similar to what happened in Eden. One hymn writer described it like this: “Amazing pity, grace unknown, and love beyond degree.” The result is what the Apostle Paul argued in 1 Corinthians 15:47-49:

“The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.”

In other words, we can go from earthly brown to heavenly blue, wearing snowy white—all because the golden Christ once became bloody red for us.

No wonder Mary is comforting Eve.

Part 1: The Gasp
Part 2: The Encounter
Part 3: The Fruit
Part 4: The Colors
Part 5: The Hands, Feet, and Faces

Image Credits: elledecor.com; illustratedprayer.org.

Mary Comforts Eve, Part 3: The Fruit

We’re reflecting on Grace Remington’s “Mary Comforts Eve,” a simple pencil-and-crayon sketch portraying a hypothetical encounter between the two towering matriarchs of the human race according to the Christian Scriptures. My comments are from the perspective of a Protestant evangelical pastor and seminary prof with an appreciation for what this Catholic nun has produced, even though our views on Mary and the church will not always align completely. No matter: it is my privilege to learn from (and be blessed by) others.

Remington does not consider herself to be a professional artist. She simply likes to doodle while thinking and studying. She got the idea for this piece while pondering the differences between Mary and Eve. Interestingly enough, the practice of Bible journaling art has taken off among evangelicals in the last decade or so. In an age of ubiquitous online memes, this practice is a welcome trend, and getting started is not difficult. I’m not an accomplished artist, but I can’t study the Bible without a pencil in my hand, either. There’s a treasure trove of truth gems in the canon to sort out. Some of these gems make their way into Remington’s sketch.

The scene portrays three kinds of fruit, two of which are in plain sight. First, there is the good fruit of Eden, scattered throughout the garden archway. It’s important to note that there’s much more good fruit available to Eve than the one bad fruit she wound up eating. As noted in a recent post, God’s openhandedness is seen on the very first page of Scripture: “Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food’” (Gen 1:29). Right out of the gate, God is a giving God, and generosity is seen as a prevailing attribute of his.

It’s not specified in the text how many edible plants and trees with fruit were available for the taking. Were there a hundred? A thousand? Ten thousand? A million? We don’t know, but the scene is marked by lush and lavish provisions from the hand of the benevolent God who gave them. Indeed, Yahweh is portrayed as a God of abundance. He says to the first human, “Eat!” and only one tree was said to be off limits—“the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 2:17). 

Celebrate the goodness of good in this divinely intended imbalance: God gave ten thousand “yeses” to one solitary “no.” Consequently, he’s not a stingy, crotchety God at all; he’s a God who overflows with blessings, provisions, kindness, and grace. And even the one “no” he gave was for our benefit, not our misery. Indeed, it was meant to prevent our misery.

Alas, Eve ate the one bad fruit of Eden, which is the second fruit visible in the picture. This fruit was “good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom” (Gen 3:6). What made it bad was not its internal composition but the fact that God said it was off limits to Eve. In the sketch, she is still clutching the forbidden fruit, which brings with it all the miseries of guilt, shame, and despair (as seen in her downcast, blushing expression), as well as crippling bondage and eventual death (as seen in her legs, which are encoiled by the serpent).

Every descendant of Eve, save one, has experienced this sense of guilt, shame, despair, and bondage. Such is the beguiling nature of sin. We want what we want, and we take what we want, ignoring the clear instruction of our kind and generous God. Consequently, we are justly placed under the sentence of death for our spiritual treason. “In the day that you eat thereof, you shall surely die” (Gen 2:17). Is there no hope? Is there no way out? Is the human race irreversibly doomed? Blessedly, God’s grace is much greater than human rebellion.

The way out is the third fruit in the Remington sketch, the fruit of Mary’s womb, soon to be born. “Blessed are you among women,” said Elizabeth, “and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Luke 1:42). Mary’s fruit—Jesus—is the way out. Indeed, he is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). He is our hope. He is our deliverer. He is our salvation from guilt, shame, despair, bondage, and death. In fact, Mary’s fruit is the fulfillment of the protoeuangelion in Genesis 3:15. Jesus is the good fruit that can undo the effects of the bad fruit.

And yet on the cross, Mary’s fruit looked exactly opposite of Eve’s fruit. The crucified Christ was seen as worthless, not pleasing to the eye, and foolish—another messianic pretender who got himself killed. But Scripture tells us he was wounded for our transgression. He was bruised for our iniquity. Our punishment was upon him. And by his stripes, we are healed (cf. Isa 53).

Both women in the scene are looking at each other’s fruit. Eve gazes at Mary’s fruit—the fruit of the coming Christ, while Mary gazes at Eve’s fruit—the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. While only Eve touches the fruit of the tree, both women touch Mary’s belly since both need that fruit for their own salvation. And both are mothers of Christ, the good fruit who “comes to make his blessing known far as the curse is found.”

Part 1: The Gasp
Part 2: The Encounter
Part 3: The Fruit
Part 4: The Colors
Part 5: The Hands, Feet, and Faces

Image Credits: elledecor.com; illustratedprayer.org.

Mary Comforts Eve, Part 2: The Encounter

We’re reflecting on the pencil-and-crayon sketch titled “Mary Comforts Eve” by Grace Remington, OCSO, of the Cistercian Sisters of the Mississippi Abbey in Dubuque, Iowa. The image first appeared on a greeting card and is available for purchase online. I received my own copy last year as a gift for participating in a friend’s wedding. He knew of my appreciation for the piece, so he surprised me with a print of my own. 

The scene shows an encounter between Eve and Mary even though they were not contemporaries. In fact, they lived thousands of years apart on the timeline. As such, the piece functions as a historical hypothetical. What might it look like if Eve were to meet with Mary? What might the nature of their interaction be? 

The sketch, then, is a thought experiment. How would you picture an encounter between these two women? Would their conversation be cold? Awkward? Condemnatory? Hostile? Would there be a conversation at all? Using her theological imagination, Remington gives us a glimpse into how such a meeting might go.

Eve, of course, is “the mother of all the living” (Gen 3:20). She represents the entire human race, tainted as it is by sin. In the Genesis account, she was blitzed by her own disobedience to the clear command of God not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:16-17). Consequently, she was judged along with her husband (Gen 3:16-19) and banished from the garden of Eden for the rest of her life (Gen 3:24). 

Before her expulsion, however, God made a promise that a descendant of hers would someday come and destroy the serpent (the creature who enticed her to sin), with her own offspring getting seriously wounded in the process (Gen 3:15). The prophecy is rather cryptic, but the implication is that a special descendant from Eve would reverse the damage done in Paradise.

That special descendant from Eve is now here in the scene, gestating inside Mary and soon to be born. Though a virgin, Mary will give birth to the one who is none other than “God with us” (Isa 7:14; Matt 1:23). He is the one who will reverse the curse that has befallen the planet (Gen 3:17). They will “give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21). Note that in Remington’s sketch, Eve is back in a garden again. Her banishment has ended, and Jesus is the one who ended it!

The nature of Eve’s encounter with Mary is revealed in several clues throughout the sketch, which we’ll look at in future posts. For now we’ll simply mention that it does not go unnoticed in Christian theology that Mary is a kind of new Eve. Indeed, the Fall began through the false belief of one virgin (Gen 3:4-6); the Restoration began through the true belief of another virgin (Luke 1:38). 

Irenaeus (ca. 130 – ca. 202 A.D.) wrote, “The knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.” Tertullian (ca. 155 – ca. 240 A.D.) wrote, “What had been reduced to ruin by this sex, might by the selfsame sex be recovered to salvation. As Eve had believed the serpent, so Mary believed the angel. The delinquency which the one occasioned by believing, the other by believing effaced.” 

We have in this scene, then, an encounter between human sin and divine grace. Which will win? Remington leaves no doubt as to the outcome.

When God showed up to save the world from the consequences of Eve’s disobedience (and her husband’s), he came as a baby in the person of Jesus Christ. A crude manger—an animal feeding trough—would serve as his first bassinet (Luke 2:7, 12, 16). He would go on to die for the sins of the world and be raised to new life on the third day. Shockingly, God’s entire rescue project hinges on Mary, a young woman from a nowhere town and a no-account family, saying “Yes” to the impossible. She carried the weight of world’s salvation in her womb.

So, Eve is the mother of Mary, who is the mother of Christ, who is the creator of both. Jesus came from both in order to redeem them both. And us.

Only God could author a story like that.

Part 1: The Gasp
Part 2: The Encounter
Part 3: The Fruit
Part 4: The Colors
Part 5: The Hands, Feet, and Faces

Image Credits: elledecor.com; illustratedprayer.org.

Mary Comforts Eve, Part 1: The Gasp

Seldom do I look at a work of art and gasp audibly, but that happened about a year and a half ago when I saw Sister Grace Remington’s “Mary Comforts Eve” for the first time. The tears came quickly, followed by a time of personal worship and a whole lot of gratitude for what the sketch is seeking to communicate. I find it to be conceptually simple, artistically straightforward, theologically rich, and spiritually hopeful. Many months later, I’m still moved by its message. 

Let’s take the next several days to talk about what we see here. (I’ll be making short posts only as the dissertation process has begun in earnest.) If you haven’t viewed the piece yet, maybe you’ll gasp, too. Lest I diminish its impact in any way, I’ll simly place it here without comment for now. Just as I needed to sit with it for a while before saying a word, maybe you’ll need to “treasure up all these things and ponder them in your heart,” too (cf. Luke 2:19). Like Mary. 

Part 1: The Gasp
Part 2: The Encounter
Part 3: The Fruit
Part 4: The Colors
Part 5: The Hands, Feet, and Faces

Image Credits: elledecor.com; illustratedprayer.org.

For All Those Who Stumble in the Darkness

Here’s another Advent gem that we sang this morning—Michael Card’s “Immanuel.” I never make it through this one, either, without breaking down at some point. It’s simple, tender, and true. Above all, it’s filled with hope for those of us who know we’re broken deep down and stand in need of a Savior.

Below is a rendition by a collection of school choirs from Cheshire and the Wirral (a peninsula in North West England) joining their voices in Chester Cathedral to celebrate the Incarnation and the Epiphany. A wonderful song is made even more special by the young voices who sing it. The opening line is from Isaiah 7:14, the famous prophecy about a virginal conception and the surprising name given to the resulting child.

im = the Hebrew word for “with”
anu = the Hebrew word for “us”
El = a shortened form of the Hebrew word Elohim, “God”

Jesus is the “with-us God.” And if God is with us, who can stand against us? Be blessed by this choral arrangement of Michael Card’s modern classic—especially if you’ve stumbled in the darkness. We’re the reason he came.

IMMANUEL

A sign shall be given
A virgin will conceive 
A human baby bearing 
Undiminished deity 
The Glory of the nations
A Light for all to see 
And Hope for all who will embrace 
His warm reality

Chorus

Immanuel, our God is with us 
And if God is with us
Who could stand against us?
Our God is with us, Immanuel

For all those who live in the shadow of death 
A glorious Light has dawned 
For all those who stumble in the darkness
Behold your Light has come 

So, what will be your answer; 
O will you hear the call?
Of Him who did not spare His Son, 
But gave Him for us all 
On earth there is no power, 
There is no depth or height 
That could ever separate us from 
The love of God in Christ 

Time to go set up some more Christmas trees. They’re beautiful reminders that “a glorious Light has dawned.”

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

The Incarnation sends my heart and mind into orbit every year. That’s why I’m glad we have an entire season of the church calendar to reflect on it. There’s no way to fully plumb its depths with these finite minds of ours. I started writing some Christmas devotional pieces for later this month, and the waterworks have already begun. Good music only makes it worse. Often I can do little more than just put my pen down and throw my hands up in gratitude and awe. That God should become one of us in the person of Christ is sheer mystery wrapped in divine love. The same is true for the second coming of Christ, to which the season of Advent also points.

As we do every year, we’re singing Charles Wesley’s classic, “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus,” to kick off the new church year. It would be difficult to find a better selection. Wesley wrote this Advent hymn and had it printed in his Hymns for the Nativity of our Lord in 1744. Like so many of his texts, this piece alludes to one or more Scripture passages in nearly every phrase. Moreover, the double nature of Advent is reflected in these lyrics, remembering Christ’s first coming even while anticipating his return.

Stanzas 1 and 2 (which form verse 1 in most of today’s hymnals) recall messianic prophecies from the Old Testament. Stanza 3 speaks of Christ’s birth and kingdom, and stanza 4 functions as a plea for Christ to rule in our hearts.

Come, thou long expected Jesus,
Born to set thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to thy glorious throne.

Wesley was the eighteenth child (and youngest son) of Samuel and Susanna Wesley. He was born at Epworth Rectory on December 18, 1707. In 1716 he went to Westminster School, being provided with room and board by his brother Samuel. He was an usher at the school until 1721, when he was elected King’s Scholar, resulting in free tuition and board. In 1726 he was elected to a Westminster studentship at Christ Church, Oxford, where he took his M.A. degree in 1729. 

Charles wrote hundreds of poetic works with his brother John, the famous revivalist and founder of Methodism. His individual hymns number well over 5,000. Among his more famous today are:

1738  And Can It Be?
1739  Jesus, Lover of My Soul
1739  Christ the Lord Is Risen Today
1739  Hark! the Herald Angels Sing
1749  O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing

Which is your favorite? I for one could sing “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” every other Sunday and not get tired of it! Jesus was not only the child born to die, he was the child born to rise again! Charles Wesley himself was “raised” to Christ’s “glorious throne” on March 29, 1788. The Spirit of God left his mark on this servant, and he in turn left his mark on us.