The most important message of Christmas is not so much that Jesus came, but why He came. Jesus was arguably the first and only human to ever be born, with the express purpose, from day one, to die.
There was no salvation in His birth. Nor did the sinless way He lived His life have any redemptive force of its own. His example, as flawless as it was, could not rescue men from their sins. Even His teaching, the greatest truth ever revealed to man, could not pay the penalty for our sinful actions.
But a penalty needed to be paid. Someone had to die. And only Jesus Christ filled the bill.
Jesus came to earth, of course, to reveal God to mankind.
He came to teach truth.
He came to fulfill the Law.
He came to offer His kingdom.
He came to show us how to live.
He came to reveal God’s love.
He came to bring peace.
He came to heal the sick.
He came to minister to the needy.
Yet, Jesus could have done them all without being born as a human. He could have simply appeared—like the angel of the Lord often did in the Old Testament—and accomplished everything in the list above, without actually becoming a man. But He had one more reason for coming…
He came to die. And you can’t die if you were never born.
Here’s a side to the Christmas story that isn’t often told: Those soft little hands, fashioned by the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb, were made so that nails might one day be driven into them. Those baby feet, pink and unable to walk, would one day stagger up a dusty hill with complete determination to be nailed to that Cross. That sweet infant’s head was formed so that someday men might force a crown of thorns onto it. That tender body, warm and soft, wrapped in swaddling clothes, would one day be stabbed by a spear to confirm for the Roman soldiers at the Cross that He was dead – after he also had 39 strikes of a cat-o-nine-tails rip that body to shreds.
40 was the death penalty.
In that stable, which may have been surrounded by palm trees, we might have seen a lone donkey standing in a corner, quietly chewing his barley straw and witnessing a historic visit from several kings of the East to this oddly-quiet baby boy. Years later, another donkey, perhaps a descendant of this one in the stable, would carry this same boy, now even quieter than He was as an infant, though a King now Himself, through the streets of Jerusalem – with branches from palm trees carpeting their path.
A star was shining over that birthplace in Bethlehem the night that the shepherds, out tending their flocks, were the first to hear the Good News of the birth of this “someday Saviour” from the announcing angels. 33 years later, even the sun itself refused to shine over the city of Jerusalem, as the man they called the Good Shepherd…
…was nailed to a tree that He grew from a seed, on a hill that He formed as Creator.
Though He had the power to call 10,000 angels – just like the ones that announced His birth – to come and spare Him from a horrible death, He chose not to.
The angels sang “glory to God” the day He was born – but on the day He died, even God Himself hid his face from the unfolding proceedings.
The messenger angel told the shepherds to not be afraid. On the day He died, everyone who believed in Him was terrified.
The public proclamation of those angels at His birth was “Good news of great joy to all the people.” The day He died, His own disciples didn’t even publically acknowledge that they knew Him. It was all bad news and great sorrow on that day, when “all the people” called for Him to be crucified.
And that “good will to men” that was promised on the day He was born was repaid on the day He died with nothing but ill will from those men. The “peace on Earth” that God promised to mankind was thrown into chaos when mankind had the gall to actually kill the Prince of Peace.
Jesus’ parents ended up having to borrow a barn to shelter their newborn baby in. 33 years later, His mother would be forced to watch as real estate was once again borrowed on His behalf – this time the tomb that would shelter His now-dead body in.
And just as she wrapped Him in swaddling clothes on His first day as a human being, Mary also assisted in wrapping His body in burial cloths on His last day too.
As author John MacArthur wrote:
“It’s appropriate to commemorate the birth of Christ. But don’t make the mistake of leaving Him as a baby in a manger. Keep in mind that His birth was just the first step in God’s glorious plan of redemption. Remember that it’s the triumph of Christ’s sacrificial death that gives meaning to His humble birth. You can’t truly celebrate one without the other.
In Billy Graham’s book “The Cradle, Cross and Crown“, he summarizes Jesus’ mission this way:
“The entire saving action of God was:
Inaugurated at Bethlehem,
Achieved at Calvary,
Authenticated by the Resurrection, and
Celebrated at the Ascension”.
We could have had Christmas without Easter. And it would have been meaningless – the birthday of yet another dead religious leader, whose life was cut short too soon, but whose death, in the end, would have meant no more than yours or mine.
We cannot have Good Friday without Christmas. Jesus had to come and be born as a human being, to wrap the eternal and divine in the “flesh suit” of a human being, so that He could take on the sins of the world as a man, pay for those crimes with His death on the Cross. But if that was the end of the story, then ladies and gentleman, we are serving a dead God – no more able to deal with our sinful lives than any other religious figure could have. Buddha, Krishna, Mohammad all have graves that you can visit too.
We cannot have Good Friday without Easter Sunday. Without the Resurrection of Christ, the famous hymn would say “What can wash away my sins? Nothing!”.
The Apostle Paul wrote that “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14).
The Resurrection gave Jesus victory over death, Hell and the grave. Without it, He would have been more appropriate to cry “I AM Finished” instead of “It Is Finished”, from the Cross. His death alone had no meaning, if He stayed in that tomb.
At best, He would die a martyr for His cause. While that may have the power to whip up even millions of faithful followers over the centuries, it does nothing to pay the price for their sinful pasts. Christianity would then have been just another meaningless dead religion, perhaps able to thrill and inspire us with the heroic actions and teachings of Christ, but like all the other dead religions, unable to answer the problem of sin. Or raise us from the dead one day as well, as the Bible says we will someday experience.
Whether the disciples actually showed great faith or not after His crucifixion is debatable, but they DID intentionally borrow His tomb, not buy it. Perhaps that was their only option – but if Jesus had in fact never resurrected from the dead, they eventually would have had to come up with a solution that was more permanent.
And one has to wonder what Joseph of Arimathea was thinking in loaning out a tomb for Jesus? On the surface, it sounded like a pretty dumb business decision. The Bible doesn’t say that he rented the tomb out to the disciples. They borrowed the property much like one might borrow a car or an item of clothing or a book.
Joseph of Arimathea would have possibly assumed he was never getting that borrowed tomb back, but the Bible doesn’t say that. After all, Jesus attended 3 funerals in his lifetime that we see recorded in Scripture – for his friend Lazarus, for the Roman centurion’s young son who had recently died, and His own. He interrupted all three with a resurrection. Perhaps the disciples had more faith than we thought?
We are quick to judge poor Peter, not just on that day when he denied Christ 3 times, but starting some time before, when he jumped over the side of a boat he was in, and started walking on water toward Jesus. Reality eventually set in, and he started to drown – needing Jesus to rescue him. “What weak faith”, we may sniff. But Peter actually jumped over the side of the boat and started walking on water. And as the head of the Church, appointed by Jesus as such, Peter also would have some hand in the arrangements for borrowing Jesus’ tomb too.
No wonder the Early Church “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). Being able to return the borrowed tomb of Jesus to Joseph of Arimathea – after Christ rose triumphant from the grave on that first Easter Sunday – would have been all the faith booster that most people would ever need.
The resurrection solidified the faith of the disciples permanently. We never read again that Paul, Peter, or any of the 10 other disciples – even the guy they nicknamed “Doubting Thomas” – ever actually doubted anything Jesus said ever again. And today, there are approximately 2.6 billion Christians around the world – a testament to the power, not only of the Cross, but the Resurrection too.
And Christ has a new position in heavenly places because of the REsurrection too. Ephesians 4:10 expresses the full dimensions of it: “He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.”
Every king is crowned in a coronation ceremony. Jesus Christ is no exception! He too will be crowned as supreme Ruler—as King of kings.