You may have heard or sung it this week – the familiar Christmas carol, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”. The third verse of the song concludes with three crucial lines that hint at the central theme from our Scripture reading today –
Born that man no more may die:
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
While in this season, we celebrate the wonderful and beautiful truth that Jesus entered human history as a babe, we should not fail to see the reason why. Christ’s great purpose in coming was to defeat sin and death and thereby bring us eternal life. This was only possible through Christ ‘s death on the cross for our sin. Jesus was born to die.
The text reminds us of the awful ugliness of these events related to the death of Jesus as he is betrayed, mocked, crucified, and buried. Yet, what appears to be Jesus’ absolute defeat will come to actually and ironically reverse Satan’s best laid plans and fulfill God’s own plan hinted at from the beginning: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Gen. 3.15). The offspring (seed) of the woman refers to the birth of Christ. On the cross, Jesus will utterly stomp and defeat Satan (bruise his head) through his own vicarious suffering (bruise Christ’s heel) on our behalf.
The religious leaders, the betrayer (Judas), the governor (Pilate), the crowds, the soldiers, those crucified with him and those who simply passed by wagging their heads and mocking Jesus were ironically, mere pawns in God’s plan. They all refused to believe Jesus was the Son of God (but cf. Lk.23.39-43!). Yet in their unbelief, they simply highlight the power of God to bring total victory out of what appears to be defeat.
Looks can be deceiving.
Tim Keller, in his book, King’s Cross writes:
“Christianity is the only religious faith that says that God himself actually suffered, actually cried out in suffering. Now what good is that? To Jesus’s followers assembled around the cross, it certainly seemed senseless; that there was no good in it at all. But in fact, they came to realize that Jesus’s suffering was of immense good to them, as we can we. Why? …[W]hen you suffer, you may be completely in the dark about the reason for your own suffering. It may seem as senseless to you as Jesus’s own suffering seemed to the disciples. But the cross tells you what the reason isn’t. It can’t be that he has abandoned you. Jesus was abandoned, and paid for our sins, so that God the Father would never abandon you. The cross proves that he loves you and understands what it means to suffer. It also demonstrates that God can be working in your life even when it seems like there is not rhyme or reason to what is happening.”
“You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” So also, the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him
Jesus WOULD come down from the cross, just not in the way his opponents had envisioned it if he were really who he claimed to be.
The truth is that Jesus needed no one to rescue him. Because Jesus was and IS the Son of God, he would himself choose to remain on the cross to save those who would place their faith in him. He would choose even the time of his death, his life not taken from him but freely given for sinners (cf. John 10:18). Jesus has power over death and life. `
This Christmas season, remember that Jesus came to die that you and I might live. All of salvation history is wrapped up in this package. May we all truly recognize and appreciate this wondrous gift from the heart of God.