What is Christmas all about? Why do we celebrate this holiday? Indeed it is a holiday, a holy day, for that is what the word means. It is a holy day in the sense that God set a day apart and on that day He sent His only begotten Son into the world. Why did He do it? What was His purpose? Perhaps the apostle's words sum it up best: "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them (2 Cor. 5:19)."
While the Christmas holiday is in reality a cultural holiday, the Lord does not forbid us to celebrate the incarnation of Christ. Thus, we do so freely. But, before we get to the incarnation, God sending His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh for sin, we must go back to the beginning. We must go to the creation of the universe to get a glimpse into this plan of reconciliation. We must see some things in order to appreciate a little more what God has done for us in Christ.
First, we must see that God created the universe to redeem a people for Himself. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Then God said, 'Let there be light;' and there was light (Gen 1:1-3)."
In these verses we see the Triune Godhead involved in creation. In the beginning, God created. His Holy Spirit hovered over the face of the deep. The Father spoke. And, the creative word that was spoken was none other than the Son. There was not a thing that was created that was not created through the Son (Col. 1:15f).
But what was the purpose? Do we read about creation to get a detailed account of the earth's chronological history? No indeed! Though the earth was created in six literal days, the creation account is given that we might understand the apex of God’s creative work: man himself. We read about the creation of man that we might see God's grace and goodness toward him in the garden. We read about his tragic fall into sin and the awful consequences.
But why do we read about those things: for the sake of knowledge alone? God forbid! Rather, we read about them that we might see God's grace and mercy toward Adam and Eve. There we see His grace and mercy toward us typified in the shedding of blood, the sacrifice of life, and the covering of their nakedness with those animal skins. These things point to God’s ultimate sacrifice for sin. These things point to His redemption: His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. These things point to His death for His people. We learn that Christ was born that He might die and thus we see the reason for which we gather on the Lord's Day: to worship the Son who died for us.
Second, we must see that God moved in history to redeem a people for Himself. God has always been the God of His people. He always was, is, and always will be the only true God. He alone is Supreme. While we see God’s supremacy on display in many ways, we certainly see it in what He did for His chosen people Israel. He called Abraham out of the Ur of the Chaldees when he was a pagan blinded by his own sin. He sent Joseph into Egypt by way of treachery, slavery, and imprisonment that he might be the deliverer of His people when the famine came. He raised up Moses to confront the mighty Pharaoh and said through him, "Let my people go." When Pharaoh refused, God sent the plagues and Pharaoh relented. But the hard-hearted ruler changed his mind and chased Israel to the edge of the Red Sea. God then stretched forth His arm and parted the sea that His people might travel across safely and that He might vanquish the enemy as they followed. God protected and cared for His people in the wilderness.
God gave His people victory time and time again. Rahab declared, "I know that the LORD has given you the land, that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land are fainthearted because of you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were on the other side of the Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. And as soon as we heard these things, our hearts melted; neither did there remain any more courage in anyone because of you, for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath (Jos. 2:9-11)."
Oh, how much more could be said by way of example. Yet, could we say more than what Rahab hath said, "He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath?" We with one accord affirm it; we declare it: "Great is the Lord Almighty, He is Lord, He is God indeed." The Lord reigns.
Third, must we see that God promised the Messiah to redeem a people for Himself. Yes, God is supreme; He is Lord; He reigns. But the people needed a relationship with Him. For almost 4000 years God moved among His people. And how many of them were unfaithful! Yet God preserved and protected them. He made His presence known among them in so many ways. Yet, His presence was often frightening. His covenant was hard. Access to God was limited by a sacrificial system, an earthly priesthood, and threatenings of judgment for breaking the law. The people were in bondage to their sin and to the law. There was a longing in their hearts that could only be filled by the coming of their Messiah.
Why did they have this longing? They needed deliverance from sin; deliverance from the law; deliverance from the bondage of the Old Covenant. They needed a Savior who could bring them peace in their hearts; they needed a Savior who could bring them peace with God. How they longed for Messiah to come. Yet, after those long years came 400 years of silence. The people had no prophet. But, a new day was about to dawn.
Fourth, we must see that God took on humanity to redeem a people for Himself. Emmanuel: God with us. God took humanity upon Himself. How did He do it? He did it in Christ. The Lord Jesus added a human nature to His divine nature. This reality is a sublime mystery that should only cause us to pause in wonder. But, we must look further.
God sent His Son to redeem a people for Himself. Let us not overlook the relationship between the Father and the Son. At the same time, the people of God were filled with great joy. The desire they had for so long was finally fulfilled in Christ Jesus. The life of Christ was filled with purpose. He was God in the flesh that He might satisfy the demands of God Himself. He was born of a woman that He might redeem man. He was born under the law that He might fulfill the law and earn righteousness for His people as proven by His obedience in baptism. He went to the cross to fulfill the curse of the law. Yes, we're back to the cross.
Fifth, we must see that God crucified His Son to redeem a people for Himself. So, why was Christ born? For what purpose did He come into the world? Christ came to save His people from their sin (Matt. 1:21). God is a God of purpose and from the very beginning God has been bringing forth His plan of salvation to His people. He delivered the people of Israel and by grace He continues to save today. But, there was a cost. The Lord Jesus Christ, Creator of the Universe, Lord over all, went to the cross to fulfill that curse. He died a sinner's death that His people might have life. "God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21)." He went to the cross, the just for the unjust, to save us from our sin (1 Pet. 3:18). "God demonstrated His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8)."
What a demonstration of God’s love. What did it mean for the people? The suffering and death of their Messiah brought anguish and uncertainty to God's people. Upon His arrest, in that hour, Jesus said to the multitudes, "Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs to take Me? I sat daily with you, teaching in the temple, and you did not seize Me. But all this was done that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled (Matt. 26:55-56)." Then all the disciples forsook Him and fled. Upon His death, when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, 'Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.' Having said this, He breathed His last. And the whole crowd who came together to that sight, seeing what had been done, beat their breasts and returned. But all His acquaintances, and the women who followed Him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things (Lk. 26:46-49).
Sixth, we must see that God raised His Son that He might redeem a people for Himself. Yes there was uncertainty and anguish. But there was something else. "Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men. But the angel answered and said to the women, 'Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.' So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word. And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, 'Rejoice!' So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him (Matt. 28:1-10)."
We have reason to celebrate this Christmas. Christ! While Scripture does not command us to celebrate Christ's birth, we have actually been commanded to remember His death. In remembering His birth, let us remember the cross and then too Christ's victory over the grave, sin, and death for us. His birth, His life, His ministry, His death, and His resurrection give us access to God our Father. We no longer approach God with terror. We celebrate Him. We worship Him. "Having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, we draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Therefore Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as we see the Day approaching (Heb. 10:19-25)."
May the only true God that continues to save His people be at the forefront of our Christmas. Let us remember and declare and show forth His death until He comes. Let us worship the King in Spirit and in truth this Christmas, by His grace and for His glory.
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About Paul Dean
Dr. Paul Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. He serves as a Regional Mentor with the International Association of Biblical Counselors, speaks at several conferences throughout the year, and provides training for ministers and churches on a regular basis. Paul resides in the Upstate of South Carolina with his wife and three children.
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