J.I. Packer was an influential theologian of our own time, who just went to be with the Lord in 2020. As a scholar, Packer reflected deeply on truths about God at an intellectual level, but he also constantly applied these theological truths to the way that Christians ought to respond to God’s grace in their lives. Packer wrote the following in his book Knowing God, at the end of a chapter reflecting on Christ’s incarnation:
Can you relate to Packer’s observations about the glibness of the “Christmas spirit,” as our culture (including ‘Christian culture’) often expresses it?
How can we intentionally work to use times like Christmas to deepen our knowledge of God, and to drive us to respond with lives that seek to reflect the self-giving love of Christ?
What can you do this week to love those around you more like Christ has loved you?
Saturday, December 23
Tertullian (Second-Third Century AD)
Tertullian was an important early church father who, along with others during his time, defended the teaching of Scripture against various forms of Gnostic belief. Many Gnostics saw flesh as inherently corrupt and evil, and thus often rejected the idea that God had become a Man in Jesus Christ. In this beautiful excerpt, Tertullian reflects on God’s creation of humans in His image, looking back on that scene in light of the revelation of Christ (the true Image of God) taking on flesh.
Tertullian ponders the idea that, even at creation, God was committed to his purpose to redeem humanity by taking on the very flesh he was forming in His Image. What an amazing thought! Does this encourage you to have more confidence and trust in God’s salvation?
God has fashioned you in His Image. Jesus IS the very Image of God! Our sins are not simply ‘mistakes,’ but are a rebellion against Him and a rejection of His Image. How do these truths change the way you live today?
God’s love shines through in His creation and in salvation. Do you fully trust in His steadfast love to save you?
Friday, December 22
J.C. Ryle (1877)
In his classic book Holiness, the English bishop J.C. Ryle sought to lay out the truths of Scripture in such a way that people not only understood the grace of God more fully, but lived lives of holiness in response to God’s grace. Knowing truths about God must always lead to transformed living. Here, Ryle reflects on how we need to know the truth of Jesus Christ’s humanity. These truths lead us to fully trust in Jesus, and to find deep comfort in Jesus in the midst of the hardest experiences of life.
Why does Ryle say that it would have been insufficient for our salvation if Jesus was only God, or only Man, without being both God and Man?
When you feel tempted, do you remember that Jesus was also tempted? When you feel deep discouragement and despair, do you remember Jesus also felt this? Our Savior has experienced all that you have, apart from sin, and He can fully empathize with you.
Thursday, December 21
Irenaeus of Lyons (Second Century AD)
Irenaeus is one of the earliest church fathers for whom we have significant amounts of his writings. When he was young, Irenaeus was taught by Polycarp, who was himself a disciple of John (the disciple of Jesus). Irenaeus spent much time writing against the influence of different Gnostic heresies in the church. The first quote below is from his On the Apostolic Teaching, in which he summarizes the Christian Faith by working through Scripture. The second quote is from his larger work, Against Heresies. Notice how important it is for Irenaeus that Jesus actually took on flesh, and had a truly human nature:
Irenaeus asserts that, since sin and death came through Adam (the first man), it was important that salvation came through someone who was truly human. It is because of Jesus’ real humanity that he can break the power of death in humanity, truly burst the bonds of sin over humanity, and restore humanity’s relationship with God.
Why did Irenaeus believe it is such a dangerous teaching that Jesus only seemed to be human? Why is it important for us to trust that Jesus was really human?
Irenaeus shows the Bible’s teaching that we are all thoroughly corrupted by Adam’s sin, and that Jesus Christ lived a full human life in order to restore and bring to life everything that was corrupted. What things is Jesus restoring in your life right now?
Wednesday, December 20
John Calvin (1581)
In this short excerpt, John Calvin reflects on how the eternal Son of God became man. He did not stop being divine, and so he did not stop having divine characteristics, such as being all-powerful and present everywhere. Yet, at the same time, he took on a true human nature, with its bodily limitations. We will never be able to wrap our minds around this mystery that is beyond our comprehension, but Scripture presents to us the one person of Christ who is both eternally God AND became truly man for us.
Rather than trying to resolve the mystery presented in Scripture with a tight logical conclusion, Calvin here affirms the mystery that Jesus was fully God (present everywhere), and fully man (present in particular places). How can acknowledging these mysteries lead you to worship the Lord Jesus?
It’s impossible to wrap our minds around the depth of love that the Lord of the Universe chose not only to be born as a helpless baby, but to hang on a cross for you and me. Reflect on how this truth changes your life today.
Tuesday, December 19
Augustine (Fourth-Fifth Century)
Augustine was one of the greatest and most influential Christian thinkers and writers in history. Here he comments on a Psalm, looking at God’s promises:
Contemplate the idea that God made Himself our debtor by his promises. God’s love is so great that He made written promises to His people, freely obligating Himself to be their faithful God despite their failings.
Why was it good for God to reveal His plan of redemption slowly over time, and not all at once?
What promises from God’s Word do you need to cling to in faith today?
Monday, December 18
John Flavel (1671)
John Flavel reflects in this quote on the unimaginable distance that lies between us and God, and this leads him to think on the astonishing nature of the incarnation, in which the Son of God has travelled that infinite distance for our salvation:
Spend some time today reflecting on the mystery of the infinite God becoming man.
Flavel challenges us first by showing us the great humility of Christ, and then asking us why we are so often unwilling to act in humility. What’s an area of life where you’ve been unwilling to humble yourself, and how can you seek to reflect Christ’s humility in this area?
Sunday, December 17
Gregory of Nyssa (Fourth Century)
Gregory of Nyssa was one of the key church fathers who helped the church to articulate a doctrine of what Scripture taught about the Trinity and Jesus Christ. Here Gregory speaks to the great work Jesus has done in cleansing his people through his incarnation (this relates closely to our sermon from Haggai 2:10-23 today).
Why do we need Jesus to cleanse us? Why are we unable to bring about true cleansing and holiness on our own?
How can you build practices and patterns that remind yourself to cling to Christ alone for salvation?
Saturday, December 16
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1940’s)
After being arrested by Nazi forces because of his long opposition to the Nazi regime, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote to his best friend Eberhard Bethge, “Life in a prison cell may well be compared to Advent. One waits, hopes, and does this, that, or the other – things that are really of no consequence – the door is shut, and can only be opened from the outside.” Advent is a reminder of our absolute need of another – the only One who can save us and pull us out of our helpless state. Read as Bonhoeffer meditates on this Savior:
Bonhoeffer emphasizes the way that God loves the lowly and aggravates our attempts to have ourselves look ‘put together’ before Him. Where are you tempted to try and present yourself as someone who is ‘put together’ before God rather than trusting in his grace that enters in precisely at lowly and weak places?
How can you reflect God’s character by choosing to love and draw near to the lost, neglected, unseemly, excluded, weak, and broken?
Friday, December 15
John Chrysostom (Fourth Century)
This quote is an excerpt from John Chrysostom’s sermon given on Christmas Day in 386 AD, and it may be the earliest Christmas sermon we have. Read along as Chrysostom proclaims with joy and celebration the birth of Christ:
John Chrysostom talks about Christ coming in order to prepare us for the treasure of life, to sanctify us, and to save us. Take some time to consider how you might treasure Jesus today in your life and thank him for what he has done for you.
What aspect of the hope proclaimed by Chrysostom do you need to hear most today?
*By “simple,” Chrysostom means that God by nature cannot be divided into parts; God is a perfectly unified Being
Thursday, December 14
Jonathan Edwards (1738)
Jonathan Edwards was meditating on the passage in Revelation 5 where Jesus is pictured as the Lion of Judah, and immediately after as the lamb who was slain. In response, he wrote a discourse on the amazing ‘excellencies of Christ,’ by which He exhibits both lion-like and lamb-like qualities. In this quote, Edwards is thinking about how Christ taking on our nature is an act that demonstrates supremely this ‘conjunction of excellencies.’
God chose to send his Son, not in final judgment in a mighty show of strength, but as one who was born in poverty, humble and despised. How does this unexpected way of God entering our world bring him glory? How does it benefit you?
Edwards talks about the people who saw themselves as ‘persons of greater account.’ Are you ever tempted to see yourself as a ‘person of greater account’ in relation to others? What harmful effects does this kind of thinking have?
How should Jesus’ incarnation keep us from thinking this way?
Wednesday, December 13
Anselm (Eleventh Century)
Even though Anselm was one of the most important thinkers of his time, he still deeply recognized his need for God. He also knew that God had graciously met the needs of mankind through the person of Jesus Christ. The first quote below is a prayer that introduces his important work, Proslogion. The second two quotes are from his work Why God Became Man(Cur Deus Homo?). The first of these is a beautiful reflection on God’s way of bringing us salvation. The second is Anselm’s response to those who thought the idea of the Son’s incarnation is degrading or unfit for God.
In his prayer, Anselm recognizes that we can’t simply think our way to knowing God; rather, we are dependent on God revealing Himself to us. What is Anselm’s commitment in light of this?
Why is it so important that God’s nature is not diminished in the incarnation?
Anselm is amazed by the great story of salvation God has woven together. What can you do today to witness to others about the great work of salvation God has brought about?
Tuesday, December 12
B.B. Warfield (1910)
The theologian B.B. Warfield wrote “The Advent,” a poem reflecting on the utterly unexpected nature of God’s coming to earth. How could a holy God come to a place full of sin and shame? Would He come in judgment? Warfield beautifully captures God’s amazing way of coming to us:
God could have come in final judgment against our sin, but instead he came to take our sin away. Have you found joy in this amazing truth?
The Lord of all the earth chose to ‘stoop to human birth.’ Today, as you encounter all the cultural frills around Christmas, take time to intentionally remind yourself of this wonder.
Monday, December 11
Gregory of Nazianzus (Fourth Century)
The great theologian Gregory of Nazianzus wrote extensively on the language Scripture uses about Jesus, particularly as it sets forth both his divine and human qualities. Gregory helped the Church to articulate a theology about these two natures of Jesus that reflected the Bible’s teaching. This powerful statement summarizes Jesus’ two natures: “He remained what he was; what he was not, he assumed.”
In Scripture, Jesus is clearly human, and yet we are also shown that Jesus is God himself. Why do we need him to be both fully God and fully man for our salvation?
The humility of Jesus in coming down from heaven for our salvation is unfathomable. Reflect today on Jesus’ humility. How might you seek to imitate this wonderful humility in your own life?
Sunday, December 10
Bernard of Clairvaux (Twelfth Century)
John 1:18 tells us, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” Bernard of Clairvaux, in preaching on this passage, reflected on this glorious reality: God is truly seen in the face of Jesus Christ. John 1 makes it clear to us that what we see in the person of Jesus is the glorious, personal revelation of God himself, full of grace and truth.
Bernard talks about how God “wanted” to be seen, understood, and known, though by nature He exists beyond our comprehension and perception, and needs nothing from us. Think about the love that God showed in freely choosing to extend Himself to you and me in this way, at great cost.
God has chosen to make himself known particularly in ways the world sees as weak and lowly. How might God be working to display His glory through the weaknesses in your life?
Bernard says that, in contemplating what God has done, he apprehends that through these actions of God, God has become “my God.” Have you put your full trust in God such that he is truly your God?
Saturday, December 9
John Owen (1657)
God is the one who saves us and unites us to himself, and this brings us into a loving relationship of communion with the Triune God. Once we are united to Jesus Christ, our union with Christ never ends, but our experience of communion with Jesus can ebb and flow. John Owen, in his masterful book Communion with God, talks about the love Jesus has for us, and the love we are called to have for him. In this section, Owen gives two aspects of Jesus’ incredible love for us:
John Owen talks about the value Christ places on his people, shown in his incredible love for them, despite their failings. Have you been tempted to doubt the love of Jesus for you?
Owen speaks about the depths of mysteries we can’t even fathom! Spend some time meditating on all Jesus has done for you, and how patiently he has loved you.
Perhaps you have been disappointed by the love of others, which is limited and marked by sin. Have you truly known and experienced the perfect love only Jesus can give?
Friday, December 8
Cyril of Alexandria (Fifth Century)
Writing in a time when the church was still working to articulate the mystery of God taking on flesh, Cyril of Alexandria worked to express the truths found in Scripture faithfully, while speaking passionately about why these truths matter so deeply for Christians. These quotes are from an extended section where Cyril is underscoring the importance of the two natures (God and man) being truly united in one person, Jesus Christ, and why this matters for you and me (you may want to read these slowly!):
Think about the reality that our Savior, Jesus Christ, while fully man, is also fully and truly God. Why is this so important for you and me?
Cyril says that if Jesus was not truly God and man united in one person, then the whole Gospel is bankrupt. Why is this truth so important for Christians?
Thursday, December 7
C.S. Lewis (1947)
In his book Miracles, C.S. Lewis argues that the incarnation is the central miracle in the Christian faith, and that it reflects a pattern that is woven into all of creation by God. Using characteristically evocative illustrations, Lewis describes this pattern:
How does the ‘key principle’ Lewis describes contrast with our typical expectations around what it takes to achieve ‘the good life’?
If our God’s character is reflected in these patterns in creation (descending in order to reascend), how should that shape the way we live as Christians?
Wednesday, December 6
Athanasius (Fourth Century AD)
In his extremely influential work, On the Incarnation, Athanasius considered the question of why God went to such lengths to redeem fallen men and women. He considers the amazing reality that God made us in his Image, and yet we who have this great privilege of being made in his Image are the very ones who have rebelled against our Creator and Lord, giving ourselves over to complete corruption. Athanasius asks: “What, then, was God to do?”…
Athanasius says it is fitting for God to redeem us because it is entirely consistent with his perfectly good character. Are you relying on your performance or on God’s character as the source of your salvation?
Spend some time prayerfully thinking about the way that the love and depth of sacrifice shown in the incarnation reveals our God’s character to us.
Tuesday, December 5
Martin Luther (1521)
In Zechariah 9:9, God declared to his people, “Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he.” On the first Sunday of Advent in 1521, Martin Luther preached a sermon on Matthew 21:1-9, an account of Jesus fulfilling this long-awaited promise.
Have you recognized that salvation cannot come from you finding your way to Jesus, but only from Him coming to you in grace?
Where are you tempted to rest on your own merit instead of King Jesus’ merit given to you?
If King Jesus has entered into your life, how does this shape your actions today?
Monday, December 4
Melito of Sardis (Second Century AD)
In one of the earliest sermons we have from the early church, Melito of Sardis talks about the Fall of humanity, and he explores the depth and extent of the suffering brought about by the sin and evil of human beings. While the sermon is about Jesus as the Passover Lamb, Melito also reflects on the depths of love the Son of God showed in willfully taking on our humanity, suffering and all, so that we might have salvation in him.
What suffering are you experiencing right now in your own life?
What specific effects of the Fall do you long for Jesus to fully wipe out, bringing full renewal?
How have you experienced the grace of Jesus in your suffering?