Christmas, the Beginning of a Bigger Story

© Wendy Clark, December 2022

Christmas is the celebration of the coming of the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One. No, “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name. It is who He is–Messiah, the promised Deliverer, and He comes anointed to accomplish a specific assignment.

Think back to Moses and how at his birth there was a fearful king who tried to kill all of the male babies of the Hebrew people. Moses was protected, and Moses would grow to be their deliverer, leading the people out of slavery after 400 years.

Jesus is born after 400 “years of silence.” God hadn’t given the people a new word, recorded and passed down, in all of that time. Don’t be confused and think that means that God withdrew and wasn’t present or paying attention or actively working in the world. Every detail surrounding the birth of Jesus seems to say otherwise and shows that God was waiting until a time that He, Himself had appointed (Mark 1:14-15). At the very least it was 400 years of purposeful silence.

In Jesus’ infancy, there is another evil king who begins killing Jewish baby boys, out of fear that a new king will be born in his own generation. Jesus is protected and grows to be the promised Deliverer, the Messiah, who will “save his people from their sins.” 

Just as Pharaoh in Egypt was right to be afraid of the birth of Moses, King Herod was right to be afraid of the birth of Jesus, not because his earthly throne was in immediate jeopardy, but because of the Kingdom of God that Jesus would ultimately usher in: a Kingdom of justice and wisdom and righteousness and holiness. Kings like Herod can never stand boldly in the presence of Holy God. None of us can. We all need Jesus to deliver us–to save us from our sins.

I recently listened to a professed “progressive Christian” pastor preach about how he rejects the teaching of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. He sees that teaching as rising out of a violent and punitive culture and in no way related to our lives today. I say with confidence that, no matter what the young pastor claims, he is not a “Christian” at all because Christianity rests on the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. The whole of Scripture, from beginning to end, is wrapped around the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, the teaching that “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22).

Can anyone read the letter to the Hebrews or the letter to Romans and not see that Jesus came to deliver us from our sins? If you aren’t sure of the answer to that question, then I encourage you to start reading both of these letters, in a clear, straightforward way. What is Paul saying? What is the writer of Hebrews saying (whether or not that is Paul)?
The young “progressive Christian” pastor finds the teaching of the blood sacrifice offensive, and he is not alone. The Apostle Paul tells us that many will stumble over the cross and the teaching that Jesus came to die for our sins in our place to be the atoning sacrifice that was required to pay the penalty for sin. 

“For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ  the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (I Corinthians 1: 22-25). We preach Christ crucified.

Read all of 1 Corinthians, and it is clear that one thing that the Apostle Paul wants us to understand is that there are teachers among us that aren’t teaching the truth of the Gospel.  Pay attention and be aware.

When talking to people about the Gospel and trying to determine where another person stands, I often ask this question: “Do you know Jesus as your Savior?” If the person says yes, then I ask this: “Can you describe or explain what that means to you?” Whatever the person says next is very helpful in bringing clarity and understanding to the conversation.

One time, a young man responded by saying that Jesus saved him from his depression and his fear and his anxiety and his loneliness . . .  and continued with a very long list that was lacking one specific and important word. Those of us sitting across the table from the young man looked at him and waited. One older gentleman prodded, “Brother?”

The young man then began in a kind of frantic way, “But I’m not a sinner. Jesus didn’t save me from sins. I don’t need saving from sins.” Then we knew where we were in the Gospel conversation. No spinning around trying to figure out how we weren’t communicating clearly. He didn’t believe that the Gospel is about salvation from sins, the blood atonement of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, which the Bible clearly teaches. And from that point we were able to come to clarity about how we consider the Bible to be an authority over us and our thoughts, feelings, and opinions, but this young man considers the Bible to be one voice among many voices and of less authority than his own thoughts, feelings, and opinions. The “progressive Christian” pastor that I referred to earlier also eventually came around to sharing that same perspective about the Bible.

Christmas has significance, but the birth of Jesus is the beginning of something that is completed at the cross and confirmed through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. We aren’t celebrating the birth of a baby who was born a long time ago and grew to be a good and wise teacher and then died and was buried long ago, his body now decomposed as everyone who died before or since. What is the point of that? There are many people like that throughout history, and we haven’t established in their honor elaborate and extensive celebrations that occur all over the world with decorations and parties and music and gift giving and stories and movies . . .

So if we do nothing else during this Christmas celebrating season, let’s meditate on this from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi:

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 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. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”(Philippians 2:5-11)

Let Christmas remind us that Jesus is still alive and is coming back, and we will all recognize who He really is. Let’s take seriously the Apostle Paul’s teaching that “today is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2) and respond to God’s invitation to draw near to Him through Jesus–and His death for us in our place on the cross. This is the significance of the birth of Christ and the heart of what it means to be a “Christian,” a follower of Christ, the Messiah. All of what it means to be a Christian begins with this understanding.

Son of God and Son of Man

© Wendy Clark, December 2021

Son of God

Hannah, my youngest, my late-in-life child, born after I had cancer and chemo, after we stepped out to adopt unsuccessfully twice, after many miscarriages, after I surrendered to God saying, “If I’m not going to have any more children, I’m okay with that, God,” that child–has always been beautiful, loved by pretty much everyone she spends time with, smart, funny, and unusually profound. Even when she was little, sometimes we would be sitting in a room full of adults, and Hannah would say something that would be so interesting, that the room would go silent, and everyone would turn in her direction.  Here’s one memory of that, related to Christmas.

Hannah must have been no older than about four, and our homeschool group was making manger scenes. Hannah made three baby Jesus figures for her manger scene.  I said, “Hannah, you know there was only one baby Jesus, right?”  She said, “Yes, Mom, I know that, but there is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, three in one, and I didn’t know how else to show that.”

If you’ve missed that somewhere along the way, don’t miss it this Christmas, that Jesus is God made visible to us.  “Son of God” doesn’t describe an act of God the Father, birthing or creating Jesus, but the intimate relationship that God the Father shares with Jesus. Look at how the writer of Hebrews explains this:

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:1-3).

Jesus is “the exact representation” of God the Father, the best way for us to see what God is like. God the Father, made the universe through Jesus the Son. Jesus was present at creation and participated in creation. The Apostle John explains this just before he begins to write the account of Jesus’ ministry. It is important to John, who lived and traveled with Jesus, that you understand who Jesus really is.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:1-3, NIV). “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14, NIV).

The “Word” in the Greek means “the expression, the utterance that flowed out of God’s mouth.” Jesus is God and pours out of God. Think about that for a few minutes. When God spoke the universe into existence, Jesus was that expression, the words that flowed out of his mouth.  The Holy Spirit is described as the very breath that God breathed, so that when God breathed life into Adam, that life was by the Spirit of God.

God and his Word and his Breath–three in one–perhaps beyond our ability to understand. 

Maybe it’s easier for us to comprehend the relationship of father to son and the spirit that moves between them, connecting them and making them one, and yet all three also separate and distinct in their identities and their roles. The Bible makes it clear that there are three separate persons–with a shared will, perspective, and purpose–separate and distinct from each other, and at the same time, completely unified.

Many have tried to explain this.  Maybe it’s like an egg that has a shell, a white part, and a yolk and is still all one egg.  Maybe it is like water than can be water and steam and ice and still be essentially the same thing.  These descriptions fall short of what the Bible teaches about God as three in one.

Jesus doesn’t explain how this works; he simply states that it is.  Every time Jesus says “I AM,” He uses the expression that God uses when he speaks to Moses and Moses asks for God’s name.

Moses said to God, ‘Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

God said to Moses, “I AM who I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ (Exodus 3:13-14). 

What did God just say to Moses?  God’s name translates to something like this:  I am the one who has always existed and who will always exist.  I exist in myself, by myself.  There is no other like me.

Jesus uses this same expression of God’s name to describe himself, which is why the Jewish leaders become so enraged against him and also why it is impossible to view Jesus as simply a good man; good men don’t go around claiming to be God.

Here are seven of these statements just from the testimony of the Apostle John.  In each of these statements Jesus identifies himself as God, I AM GOD who is .  . .

“I AM the bread of life.” (John 6:35, 41, 48, 51)

“I AM the light of the world.” (John 8:12) 

“I AM the door of the sheep.” (John 10:7,9) 

“I AM the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25) 

“I AM the good shepherd.” (John 10:11, 14) 

“I AM the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6) 

“I AM the true vine.” (John 15:1, 5) 

Jesus also says, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30), and those who oppose him pick up stones to try to stone him to death and “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

If you have never heard that Jesus actually taught that he himself is God and the Son of God, not just a prophet of God or a good man sent by God . . .

If you were taught that Jesus was just a man . . .

If you’ve never really thought about Jesus much at all . . .

Consider this particular conversation that Jesus has with his disciples:

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 16:13-17, NIV)

Jesus refers to himself as the “Son of Man” and then commends Peter for recognizing that he is also the Messiah and the “Son of God.”

If you aren’t sure about all of this or even if you are sure but haven’t given it much thought lately, I encourage you to take some time before Christmas day and read through the Gospel of John, the Apostle John’s account of his encounter with the Son of Man/ Son of God.

As you read, ask and answer these questions:  What does Jesus say about himself?  What does he do?  What does he ask his followers to do?  If all of this is true, what implications does it have for my life? 

Next time . . . more about the Son of Man.