This time of year is still my favorite time of year. I love the cooler weather. I love seeing the fall colors of leaves on trees and on the ground. I love seeing Christmas decorations around my neighborhood and city. I love spending time shopping for Christmas gifts with my wife and sipping on seasonal coffee drinks. I love listening to my Christmas Jazz station on Pandora. I love being with my family sharing laughter, great food and exchanging gifts. These are all great gifts given by God to be enjoyed! Another aspect that I think about with gratitude is seeing the end of another year reflecting on God’s faithfulness. This also causes me to think about the Lord’s grace and mercies to come in the following year, should He tarry.
Of course, this time of year is a time of reflection and celebration for what I believe to be one of the most important events in human history – the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Christmas cards, decor and media flood our minds with nativity scenes of “baby Jesus”. The exact date of Jesus’ birth isn’t known, but December 25 has been officially recognized by the Western and Eastern Church as the date to celebrate His birth. More importantly, we should give earnest attention to the fact that God entered humanity in the person of Jesus Christ and dwelt among His creation for a specific reason. However, as integral as it is, the birth of Christ is only a portion of the significance of Jesus’ life. We must also consider the significance of His life, death and resurrection to truly appreciate His birth.
The Significance of Jesus’ Life
Galatians 4:4 says, “4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,…”. This verse is very important and teaches us three things. First, it teaches us that Jesus was sent by the Father at an appointed time. Second, it reminds us that Jesus was a human being born of a woman. Third, it reminds us of the administration He was was subject to. Being born under the law meant that Jesus, as a human, was part of the covenant community of God subject to the Law’s demands.
In Exodus 19, God covenanted with Israel and issued His law to Moses, which was to shape, identify and govern His chosen people, Israel. Jesus was a true Israelite subject to the Law of Moses. Jesus was subject to the same law as every Israelite. As with all laws, adherence was to be expected. If Israel obeyed the Law, they incurred blessings. If Israel disobeyed the Law, they incurred curses (Deut. 28). Despite having clear information and instruction from God about who He is and how they were to live, Israel repeatedly broke the covenant with God and incurred the curses of the Law. The reason Israel continually failed to keep the Law was because they were unable to keep it due to indwelling sin. The heart of the Law was wholehearted love for God and love for fellow man (Matt. 22:36-40) and sin prevents us from loving God and man in this way. However, Jesus never sinned against God and man (1 Pet. 2:22) and thus He fulfilled the positive requirement of the Law, which is perfect obedience. Jesus lived the perfect life that God required of all man. But He also fulfilled the Law in another way.
The Significance of Jesus’ Death
The ultimate curse of the Law was to be seen as cursed by God. Being seen as cursed by God for breaking the covenant warranted death. Deuteronomy 21:22-23a says, “22 “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 23 his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God…”” In Galatians 3:13, the Apostle Paul says that Christ inherited the ultimate covenant curse of God being hung on a tree (crucifixion). On the cross, Jesus was forsaken by the Father (Matt. 27:46; Mk. 15:34). If Christ never broke the Law, why did He suffer the ultimate curse of the Law?
Though the Law could never keep Israel from sinning, because it was powerless to, it did provide a way of forgiveness. God established rules of worship for Israel, which included a priesthood and animal sacrifices. The priests, God’s appointed mediators, would regularly offer perfect animal sacrifices on behalf of themselves and of the people as God’s means of forgiveness and reconciliation for their sins. The act of offering an animal sacrifice involved killing the animal and having its blood sprinkled on the altar and other places of the tabernacle and the temple. Instead of the people suffering God’s wrath for their sin, God accepted the blood (life) of the perfect animals (usually bulls and goats) as a substitute for the life of guilty Israel. This priestly work was regularly done because the blood of bulls and goats could never completely take away sins nor purify sinful hearts (Heb. 10:1-4). This ritual functioned as a reminder of Israel’s sins. It also functioned as a pointer to the need for something greater.
Jesus’ death was the fulfillment of the animal sacrifices. He is the slain perfect Lamb who came to take away the sins of the world (Jhn 1:29; Heb. 9:12-14; Rev. 5:6-14). In His living and His dying, Jesus, as a man, completely satisfied all of the demands of the Law. Jesus’ perfect life was a sin and guilt offering for those who turn to Him by faith for the forgiveness of their sins. The whole point of Jesus’ life was to please the Father and give His life as a ransom for many (Mk. 10:45).
The Significance of Jesus’ Resurrection
If one truth about Jesus’ life that tends to be overlooked, it’s His resurrection. Perhaps it’s because we hear more songs about his life and death that we unintentionally minimize the resurrection. This probably occurs in our evangelism too. I’m not sure why this happens, but it is too important to not state or minimize. Think about it. What good would Jesus’ life and death be if He remained dead in a tomb? Where’s the good news in that? What hope would man have if Jesus is still dead? None. In fact, the Apostle Paul argued that Christians are indeed to be the most pitied of all if Christ had not risen from the dead (1 Cor. 15:17-19). Paul makes the argument that if Christ is not risen from the dead, Christians are still in their sins (i.e. unforgiven and dominated by sin) and eternal condemnation awaits us. In order for us to appreciate what Christ’s resurrection accomplishes, we must first consider the effects of sin.
Sin entered the world through Adam and through sin, death came and spread to all men (Gen. 3, Rom. 5:12). Adam and Eve transgressed a clear prohibition from God and became sinners. The reason why death exists is because of sin (Rom. 6:23). Sin is rebellion against God and leads to separation from God. Rebellion and separation from God leads to death and since all men die, all men are sinners. Again, death is the consequence of sin. However, Jesus never sinned, yet He willingly died as a substitutionary sacrifice. Since He never sinned, He didn’t deserve death nor does sin and death have the power to keep Him dead. Thus, His resurrection!!
By His righteous living and His resurrection, Jesus conquered sin and death! His resurrection from the dead led to His ascension to the right hand of the Father where He is presently ruling and reigning. When He comes again, He will gather His people to himself. Those living will be caught up with Him and those who have previously died will resurrect from their graves displaying victory over sin and death! The last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Cor. 15:26).
The whole point of the redemptive work of Christ is to gather the children of God to be with Him in His kingdom in the new heavens and new earth (Rev. 21)!
This Christmas, let us indeed celebrate and rejoice in Jesus’ incarnation, but let us not forget that His humble earthly beginning was the first step in His mission to destroy the works of the devil (Col. 2:15, 1 John 3:8) and bring many sons to everlasting glory (Heb. 2:10).
That is the good news of Christmas!