Archives For Theological Convictions

As the calendar turned this year, I was reminded of President Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. By signing this Proclamation, the legal status of more than three-million slaves in the Confederate states in the south (those states which seceded from the American states during the Civil War, from 1861-1865), changed from slave to free. In conjunction with this historic signing, churches in the north held candlelight vigils honoring and commemorating this event.

Four brief matters to note.

First, a Presidential proclamation, an executive order, was issued to overturn an evil against human beings. As Christians, we recognize governments are put into place by God and are “God’s servant for your good,” that is the good of all, not a few. We are thankful when human laws reflect key truths about human dignity and worth revealed in God’s law.

Second, even though a law was signed stating these slaves were free, the immediate effect of this law did not result in the freedom for all these slaves. We also know that even if a law is in effect, as important as that is, it does not mean a person will be looked at or treated equally, as a fellow image-bearer of God. History is replete with examples of this, which continues to this day.

Third, the churches in the north set aside time, both purposefully and intentionally, to thank the Lord for the passing of this law, for they believed this human Presidential proclamation upheld God’s law about the worth and dignity, the equality of all, that all humanity is created in the imago Dei, and this ought to be upheld and celebrated. It is also true that churches ought to engage in vigils of sorrow and grief and repentance when God’s laws and commands are not reflected in human laws, and when the imago Dei is undermined or not acknowledged in the life of the other.

Fourth, and to move into the present day, the last couple of years have reflected increased racial tensions, indicating the issue is not ultimately the law. Rather, the problem is with the human heart. In a posture of prayer, trusting in the kind providence of God, may this be the year that the church of Jesus Christ reflects the reality of the new heavens and new earth in the realm of race relations, and may we in the EFCA, by his grace and for his glory, humbly and courageously, dependently on God and interdependently on one another, lead the way in our orthodoxy and our orthopraxy, in our belief and our behavior, in our teaching and our living.


The text of Scripture serves as a fitting conclusion to our Advent series on The Songs of Christmas: Mary’s Song (Magnificat), Zechariah’s Song (Benedictus), the Angels’ Song (Gloria in Excelsis), and Simeon’s Song (Nunc Dimittis). Each of them praised God for His goodness, His faithfulness to His covenant, His grace, His salvation, Jesus Christ.

As the songs recorded in Luke’s infancy narrative in chapters 1 and 2 focus on the birth of Jesus, this song focuses on the death and resurrection and exalted status of Jesus, and he is praised for redemption purchased. This was the purpose of Jesus’ birth!

With the New Year, many commit themselves to do “new” things by making a list of resolutions. The Bible is also filled with new things. One of them is “a new song,” the focus of our final advent devotional. Not only is Revelation 4-5 a fitting conclusion to this series, it is an appropriate way to begin the New Year, learning to sing a new song which focuses on redemption. As Isaac Watts wrote and we sing,

Come, ye that love the Lord,

And let your joys be known;

Join in a song with sweet accord,

While ye surround the throne.


Let those refuse to sing,

Who never knew our God;

But children of the heavenly King,

May speak their joys abroad.


John has just completed writing letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor (Rev. 2-3). Chapters 4 and 5 constitute one vision, worship on the throne room of heaven. Chapter 4 sets the stage for the drama of chapter 5. Chapter 4 describes John’s initial vision of what he sees in heaven’s throne room, while chapter 5 describes the unfolding drama of what is happening in the throne room.

Jon first of all sees a door standing open in heaven, and there was a voice that beckoned him to “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place” (4:1). While John was in the Spirit, he saw before him a throne with an occupant (4:2). The occupant was God Himself and the throne signified His supreme, absolute authority over everything – the transcendence, majesty, and sovereignty of Almighty God (4:1-6a). He was surrounded by twenty-four thrones upon which twenty-four elders were seated. This refers to (The elders are an exalted angelic order who serve and adore God as the heavenly counterpart to the 24 priestly and 24 Levitical orders [cf. 1 Chron. 24:4; 25:9-13].)

In the center around the throne were four living creatures, an exalted order of angelic beings, who lead the heavenly hosts in worship and adoration of God (4:6b-8a). The four living creatures and the twenty-four elders are both an exalted order of angelic beings, while the four living creatures lead the praise and worship, the twenty-four elders follow their lead: praise the “Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come” (4:8b). Praise and worship of God is unceasing, and is based on his attributes: holiness, omnipotence, and eternal existence (4:8b-9). The living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to God, who sits on the throne and who lives forever and ever. Day and night they never stop saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.”

To a persecuted church and an exiled John, these truths would have been a great source of encouragement and strength. As the four living creatures praise and worship God, it leads the 24 elders to fall down before God and worship him also (4:10). The twenty-four elders praise God directly for his creation (4:10-11). They say, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”

John sees a scroll in the hand of the One who is seated on the throne, but no one was found worthy to open it or to look inside it. Overwhelmed with grief, John wept (5:1-4). The scroll contained writing on both sides (5:1), which speaks of fullness, completeness, plenitude. This scroll contains the fullness of all of God’s purposes in judgment and blessing. It contains the full account of what God in his sovereign will has determined as the destiny of the world, which rests in God’s hands. No one was found worthy to open the scroll. John wept, not because of ignorance, he did not know what God’s plans were, but rather because of an apparent frustration of God’s purposes. One of the elders comforted John. The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David has triumphed. He is worthy to open the scroll (5:5). So God’s plans are not thwarted, but actually fulfilled by the Lion, the Root. When John looked at the One described as the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, he actually saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne (5:6-7). The slain Lamb is the One who took the scroll from the One who sits on the throne, God the Father.

Worship was not confined only to God as the Creator, but also included the Lamb who alone was considered worthy to open the scroll (5:5). No one other than the Lamb was worthy to disclose the plan of Almighty God. As John looked at the victorious, triumphant Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David (5:5), to surprise he saw a Lamb standing in the center of the throne, which looked as though it had been slain (5:6). Ultimate victory comes through sacrifice, the death of a Lamb who lives again. There is no greater display of universal adoration and worship as when the Lamb took the scroll from the One sitting on the throne (5:7).

Various countries have images that reflect might, strength and power. One would think the proper symbol for Christianity would be the Lion, certainly not a helpless, slain lamb. But the Lamb is the ultimate source of strength, power and hope, for the slain Lamb still lives. He is the ultimate outworking of God’s plan – overcoming death and sin through death itself and resurrection. God’s plan required the death of the God-man. It is appropriate that the One who is the outworking of God’s plan should disclose God’s plan (cf. Jn. 1:18; Heb. 1:2).

The four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb (5:8) and they sang a new song (cf. Ps. 96, 98) praising the Lamb for His redemption (5:9-10). Then innumerable angels joined in the heavenly chorus and sang of the worthiness of the Lamb (5:12). Finally, the climax is reached when all creation sings to the One who sits on the throne and to the Lamb (5:13). This magnificent scene of worship is brought to a close by the four living creatures, who began the singing (4:8), as they cry, “‘Amen,’ and the elders fell down and worshiped (5:14).” The four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb and sang a new song, a song focused on the Lamb’s redemption. God was praised and worshiped in 4:11 for creation. Here the Lamb is praised and worshiped for redemption.

The Redemption Song: The Person, Ground, Extent, and Purpose of Redemption

The Person of Redemption, The Redeemer – The Lamb is the only one worthy to take and open the scroll: “And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals (Rev. 5:9). They sang a “new song.” This was not the song of creation, but the new song of redemption. The idea of a new song grows out of the Psalms. In 98:1 we read (sing!), “Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.” In other words, every new act of mercy calls forth a new song of gratitude and praise. The song to the Lamb is a new song because the covenant established through his death is a new covenant.

It is interesting to note that the statement, “You are worthy” is the cry with which the Emperor’s arrival was celebrated. Any new Caesar or King would be addressed, “You are worthy.” But it is extremely important for us to remember that ultimately no king, Caesar, emperor, president or any other created being is worthy to disclose the plan of God and to fulfill it – only the Lamb of God. He alone is the one who is worthy to take the scroll from the hand of God and disclose and enact its contents. The four living creatures and the twenty-four elders were joined by innumerable angels in singing about the worthiness of the Lamb. They sang, “Worthy is the lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise” (5:12). The first four are attributes of the Lamb while the last three are related to our response to him. As one says of praise, it is “the inevitable climax of it all . . . the one gift that we who have nothing to give to him who possesses all.”

The Ground of Redemption – The Lamb is worthy because of his death: “because you were slain” (Rev. 5:9). Jesus, the Lamb of God, is worthy simply because of who he is. His worthiness is grounded in his essential being. He is, in fact, very God. Yet his worthiness does not solely attributed to who he is, but also what he did. In this text, the Lamb is worthy precisely because he was slain. His worthiness is attributed to his great act of redemption. As the great church Father Gregory of Nazianzus wrote, “Without ceasing to be what he always was [God], he became what he was not [man].” And I like to add, so that we might become what we could not (children of God).

As was stated earlier, God’s plan is worked out through the sacrifice of a Lamb, the God-man. As Jesus said during his earthly ministry, the Son of Man “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:45). Paul reminds believers they were “bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:20). In this verse, “with (at the cost of) your blood” denotes the pure price paid for the purchasing, the redemption. We were redeemed at the cost of Christ’s death. He alone is worthy, and his death is the ground of redemption.

The Extent of Redemption – Through the death of the Lamb, people from every tribe, language, people, and nation were ransomed/purchased: “you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation (Rev. 5:9). Redemption is not universal in the sense that everyone will be redeemed. But it is universal in the sense that it will include people from all kinds and classes of people. Those who are redeemed, those who comprise the church, recognize no national, political, cultural, or racial boundaries. There is no elitism base on anything, only humility because the Lambs is the only One worthy.

This gives meaning to the texts that speak of God’s desire for all to be saved such as as 1 Timothy 2:4 or 2 Peter 3:9. Some suggest that God’s plan is fulfilled and all will ultimately be saved. Others, suggest God’s plan is thwarted due to the free will of man. This text teaches that God’s plan is fulfilled in the redemption, the salvation of all people, not without exception (universalism), but rather all without distinction. This means there will be people from every tribe, language, people and nation who are redeemed.

The Purpose of Redemption – The Lamb purchased these people for God. They were made to be a kingdom and priests to serve God:  “you ransomed people for God . . . you have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God” (Rev. 5:9, 10). As a kingdom they shall reign and as priests they serve. The purpose of redemption is to serve God, it is for God, not for us. This is the consistent witness of Scripture – saved to serve. Worship is an engagement with God in all of life. All we do, whatever it is, is for him, to serve him. This is the purpose of redemption.


As we thank God for creation (4:11) and for the Lamb’s redemption (5:9), we join with all creation in their song of praise, thanksgiving and worship of God and the Lamb: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, forever and ever!” (Revelation 5:13).  Added to this throng of worshipers, the four living creatures said “Amen” and the elders fell down and worshiped (5:14).

Ponder and Pray

Ponder and pray, prepare and pray, and pray as we begin a new year. Here are a few questions to aid you.

  1. Why would this scene have been so important to a group of Christians who were facing severe persecution? What is the significance for us today as we face turmoil and tribulation?
  2. How is the One who is sitting on the throne described? How is the Lamb described?
  3. What are the reasons that God and the Lamb are praised? (Look at what is said in the songs.)
  4. Notice that the four living creatures sang a new song. Every new act of God’s mercy calls forth new songs. What are the new songs you should be singing? What are the new songs that you will sing this new year?
  5. The heavenly scene depicted in Rev. 4-5 is what heaven is all about: worship of God and the Lamb. If you were to go to be “with the Lord” today, would you be ready? Would the unceasing worship be reflective of your present life, or would it be foreign? Would it be boring or would it be your very life?
  6. Make worship an uninterrupted reality in your life this year!

Our 2017 Theology Conference will be held February 1-3 on the campus of Trinity International University. In the introduction to the conference, we will focus on the EFCA’s roots in the Reformation and the Reformation’s legacy in the EFCA.

We are excited for this Theology Conference. Not only are we addressing the Reformation, a timely and important theme in conjunction with the 500th anniversary of Luther posting the 95 Theses, but we have some of the foremost scholars addressing the various themes/topics of the Conference.

In our first two lectures we focus on common Reformation themes, that of sola Scriptura and justification. Most are familiar with these truths, along with the other solas of the Reformation. However, the Reformation addressed more than these issues. In our following lectures we address a few important and related topics of the Reformation, which are not often known or addressed. Our goal is that we will all learn more about the Reformation and its theology, and also its legacy, up to and affecting those of us serving in the EFCA in the present.

Scott M. Manetsch, Professor of Church History, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, will focus on the ongoing legacy of the Reformation. He will focus on the fruit God produced in and through the Reformation and also its broad and expansive impact. Not only was this gospel-centered movement against the foundational beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church, both in doctrine and practice, it was also foundationally grounded in the gospel with its reach affecting everything related to the major tenets of doctrine, the church and the Christian life. The reason for this fruit and its pervasive and ongoing influence is that the Reformation was a rediscovery of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Much of what we do today as pastors in pastoral ministry in the local church has been influenced and affected by what God did in and through the Reformation. We live the fruit and legacy of the Reformation without truly knowing it. This is some of what we will learn as we focus on the extent of the Reformation’s reform, which will be a fitting conclusion to our focus on the Reformation.

The Extent of the Reformation’s Reform: Word, Church, Ministry and Worship

Although one can pinpoint and highlight a few key doctrines that were central to the Reformers and the Reformation, the impact was far-reaching. There was nothing of life and ministry that remained unaffected. This is particularly true regarding the local church and pastoral ministry within the local church. The Word became central and the central authority. This was reflected in the role the Bible played in the corporate service and the prominence given to the pulpit. This also affected how the church was composed and understood. All believers were priests, there was no necessary intermediary between believers and Christ, and Christ alone is the Priest at the right hand of the Father who is the mediator between God and humanity. This was affirmed in the priesthood of all believers (note the plural, not the singular). This also had an influence on how they considered ministry within the church, which was extended to families. This transformed the way pastoral ministry was considered and conducted. The corporate singing as the people of God gathered was also transformed, since the whole priesthood was called upon to sing praises to God. These truths transformed the hymnology of the church. In this lecture we will focus on the key ways the Reformation transformed most everything about the church and pastoral ministry, and what we ought to learn today and experience a new Reformation.

Scott has addressed this topic numerous times over the years. One of his major works focuses on the ministry of John Calvin and his training of pastors: Calvin’s Company of Pastors: Pastoral Care and the Emerging Reformed Church, 1536-1609 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013). The fruit of this work has been presented in conferences in the EFCA, Switzerland, Germany, France and the Netherlands, and it has encouraged many. He also serves as co-editor with Timothy George of the helpful and insightful Reformation Commentary on Scripture. Each of the commentaries in this series “consists of the collected comments and wisdom of the Reformers collated around the text of the Bible,” which serve as “a unique tool for the spiritual and theological reading of Scripture and a vital help for teaching and preaching.” Scott provides his own input in his own forthcoming contribution as editor of the work on 1 Corinthians: New Testament Volume 9A (Downers Grove: IVP Academic).

Scott has been associated with Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in the capacity of a student, receiving his MDiv and MA from TEDS, and as a professor, teaching in the Church History department since 2000. As noted above, he has spoken at our EFCA conferences on the topic of “The Reformation of the Pastoral Office” and he has also addressed this theme in a brief article emphasizing Three Important Pastoral Lessons. Last fall, at the EFCA Great Lakes District conference on the theme “The 5 Solas: Celebrating 500 Years,” Scott spoke on the topic of Sola Gratia.

Scott is a premier church historian of the Reformation. He is committed to the authority of the Scriptures in the life of the pastor and in pastoral ministry in the context of the local church. He finds great delight in teaching and training future pastors for this privileged task. He also recognizes the important role history plays in understanding, learning, forming and shaping pastors and ministry today. As a church historian and churchman training pastors, Scot also serves as a model of a pastor-theologian. I have learned and continue to learn much from Scott, so I am grateful he will share that learning with other pastors and leaders at our upcoming Theology Conference. 

You can read more about the Conference, the speakers and the schedule here. Please register here. Plan to attend, and plan to bring other staff members, elders and/or leaders from the church.

Our 2017 Theology Conference will be held February 1-3 on the campus of Trinity International University. In the introduction to the conference, we will focus on the EFCA’s roots in the Reformation and the Reformation’s legacy in the EFCA.

We are excited for this Theology Conference. Not only are we addressing the Reformation, a timely and important theme in conjunction with the 500th anniversary of Luther posting the 95 Theses, but we have some of the foremost scholars addressing the various themes/topics of the Conference.

In our first two lectures we focus on common Reformation themes, that of sola Scriptura and justification. Most are familiar with these truths, along with the other solas of the Reformation. However, the Reformation addressed more than these issues. In our following lectures we address a few important and related topics of the Reformation, which are not often known or addressed. Our goal is that we will all learn more about the Reformation and its theology, and also its legacy, up to and affecting those of us serving in the EFCA in the present.

Kenneth N. Young, Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ministries, University of Northwestern, will address the important topic of creeds, confessions and catechisms. In our Free Church history, creeds have been formative, but also considered a concern. This relationship is summarized by one as follows: “Creeds can become formal, complex, and abstract. They can be almost illimitably expanded. They can be superimposed on Scripture. Properly handled, however, they facilitate public confession, form a succinct basis of teaching, safeguard pure doctrine, and constitute an appropriate focus for the church’s fellowship in faith.” The same could be said for the relationship with the Free Church and confessions. Although they are foundational, the concerns of their abuses have often resulted in their lack of use.

The concern is that either the creed or the confession supplant or replace the Scriptures. That is a legitimate concern, but not a result that is inevitable. One must recognize the difference between and the different roles played between the Scriptures, which is the norma normans, which is consistent with sola Scriptura or absoluta Scriptura, and the norma normata, that which is normed by the norm, the Bible. One explains it in this way: “All creeds are more or less imperfect and fallible. The Bible alone is the rule of faith (regula credendi), the norma normans, and claims divine and therefore absolute authority; the creed is a rule of public teaching (regula docendi), the norma normata, and has only ecclesiastical and therefore relative authority, which depends on the measure of its agreement with the Bible. Confessions may be improved (as the Apostles’ Creed is a gradual growth from the baptismal formula), or may be superseded by better ones with the increasing knowledge of the truth.”

Finally, a catechism is the manner in which the Creeds and Confessions, the truth once for all entrusted to the saints, are passed on to others. Once again there are fears that are real, such that knowing certain doctrinal truths does not necessarily equate with spiritual birth or maturity. Neither of the latter issues will be realized apart from doctrinal truths. But the former does not equate with spiritual birth. Even the demons believe (Jms. 2:19), which means, they are, in a sense, orthodox. But they shudder before God, in that they do not believe such that they are born again, and they are condemned to eternal damnation (Jude 6). Luther and the other Reformers and post-Reformers, believed it important to equip God’s people with doctrinal truth. This was the means they used to propagate the faith. Luther summarized the effects of introducing his catechism in this way: “I have brought about such a change that nowadays a girl or boy of fifteen knows more about Christian doctrine than all the theologians of the great universities used to know.” Evangelicals in the Free Church today need to ask what role Creeds, Confessions and Catechisms play in our own lives and in the ministries to God’s people in local EFC churches. They are being spiritually formed by something. We need to ensure they are being formed to the truth once for all entrusted to the saints, in both head and heart (Matt. 22:37-39).

The Reformation, Creeds, Confessions and Catechisms

A supernatural work of God in renewal and revival is often accompanied and sustained by structures in order to sustain the fruit from the good work God is doing. If no structures are put in place, God’s work among humans often dissipates or implodes. The long-lasting fruit that can and should be born is lost. One of the important ways the truths of the Reformation, those major truths of sola Scriptura and justification by faith that were rediscovered, were taught and passed on was through creeds, confessions and catechisms. These were written to be used in the church and in families at home. Consider the Augsburg Confession (1530), the Belgic Confession (1561), The Thirty-Nine Articles (1571), The Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), and others. Consider Luther’s Small Catechism (1529), The Catechism of the Church of Geneva (1545), The Heidelberg Catechism (1563), and others. These tools, rooted in the Scriptures, profoundly grounded, formed and shaped the children of the Reformation. And yet, as good and right as this was, something was missing if one attempted to look to the structure of creeds, confessions and catechisms to produce spiritual fruit apart from spiritual life. The Pietists responded to this. And yet, Pietism gone too far emphasized the internal and subjective at the expense the creed, confession and catechism. Both of these movements make up the historical and theological stream of the EFCA. In this lecture we will focus on the proliferation of confessions and catechisms, how they were used, their strengths and weaknesses, and what sort of tool/structure the church needs to foster and sustain the good work God is doing today.

Kenneth received his D.Min. in Biblical Counseling from Westminster Theological Seminary, and he also received his Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from Luther Seminary. He presently teaches at the University of Northwestern, a role he has had for the past many years. Although Kenneth’s primary ministry at the moment is in the academy, he is a pastor theologian who is a committed churchman. This is validated in that in addition to his theological ministry in the academy, he has served for many years as a local church pastor. Many of those years in pastoral ministry have been with the EFCA, both as a church planter and a sr. pastor, where is also is ordained. He has also served in other leadership roles within the EFCA. Much of his ministry has focused on the intersection between orthodoxy and orthopraxy, particularly in the realm of racial reconciliation. I am grateful Kenneth will join us to address this important topic.

You can read more about the Conference, the speakers and the schedule here. Please register here. Plan to attend, and plan to bring other staff members, elders and/or leaders from the church.

Contrasts of Christmas

Greg Strand – December 24, 2016 Leave a comment

When we ponder the incarnation we are confronted with numerous contrasts. These contrasts get to the heart of the miraculous work of God. In many ways, Paul’s brief “but God” (Eph. 2:4) summarizes these twin contrastive truths, which help us to understand the gravity and glory of the incarnation.

As you read these statements, please pause to read, ponder and pray through the Scripture texts. Use these texts of Scripture summarized in the theological summaries as an aid to worship of God in all his fullness, who is the one who, in the fullness of time, “sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5).

Jesus experienced a human birth (Lk. 2:11), that through him we might have heavenly birth (Jn. 1:12).

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:11

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” John 1:12

Jesus’ resting place was a lowly manger in a stable (Lk. 2:7), so that we might have heavenly mansions (Jn. 14:2-3). 

“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7

“In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” John 14:2-3

Jesus became a member of the human family (Matt. 2:11), so that we might become members of the family of God (Gal. 3:26). 

“And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.” Matthew 2:11

“for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” Galatians 3:26

Jesus was made (made himself) subject to others, i.e., he obeyed them (Lk. 2:51), so that we, through the power of the Holy Spirit, might be made free (Gal. 5:1).

“And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.” Luke 2:51

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1

Jesus’ glory was concealed (Phil. 2:6-7; cf. Jn. 17:1-5), so that we might receive glory (1 Pet. 5:4).

“who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Philippians 2:6-7

“And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” 1 Peter 5:4

Jesus became poor (Matt. 8:20), so we might become rich (2 Cor. 8:9).

“And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’” Matthew 8:20

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:9

 Jesus’ birth was welcomed and celebrated by the lowly and despised shepherds (Lk. 2:8-9), while our new birth is welcomed and celebrated by angels (Lk. 15:10).

“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.” Luke 2:8-9

“Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:10

Herod sought to destroy Jesus through death (Matt. 2:13), but Jesus destroyed Satan and death through his death (Heb. 2:14-15).

“Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’” Matthew 2:13

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” Hebrews 2:14-15

These eight contrastive truths are thoughts from Donald Grey Barnhouse, who served as a faithful minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ for many years at Tenth Presbyterian Church (1927-1960). James Montgomery Boice, who also served at Tenth Presbyterian Church (1968-2000), summarizes these great contrasts in the following way (The Christ of Christmas [Minneapolis: Grason, 1983], 59):

When we put these texts together we see a great pattern. We see that Jesus endured a human birth to give us a new spiritual birth. He occupied a stable that we might occupy a mansion. He had an earthly mother so that we might have a heavenly Father. He became subject that we might be free. He left his glory to give us glory. He was poor that we might become rich. He was welcomed by shepherds at his birth whereas we at our birth are welcomed by angels. He was hunted by Herod that we might be delivered from the grasp of Satan. That is the great paradox of the Christmas story. It is that which makes it irresistibly attractive. It is the reversal of roles at God’s cost for our benefit.

O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord!