© 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.