The central person of Christmas is not a shepherd or an angel or a wise man or Mary or Joseph or King Herod, but a wee Baby born in a stable and laid in a manger. That Baby is the God of amazing grace; He is the God of Christmas. Surrounding Christmas there is great mystery. And central to Christmas there is a great mission.
The Mystery of Christmas
Jesus was neither God indwelling a man nor a man deified, but God and man—combining in one personality two natures (John 1:14). In A.D. 451, the Council of Chalcedon described the person of our Lord Jesus Christ as “perfect in divinity and humanity, truly God and truly human.” This is the mystery of Christmas.
Scottish minister James Stewart writes: “He was the meekest and lowliest of all the sons of men, yet He said that He would come on the clouds of Heaven in the glory of God. …
Evil spirits and demons cried out in terror at His coming, yet He was so genial and winsome and approachable that the children loved to play with Him, and the little ones nestled in His arms. … No one was ever half so kind or compassionate to sinners, yet no one ever spoke such red-hot, scorching words about sin. …
“His whole life was love, yet on one occasion He demanded of the Pharisees how they expected to escape the damnation of hell. … He saved others, yet at the last, Himself He would not save. There is nothing in history like the union of contrasts that confronts you in the Gospels. The mystery of Jesus is the mystery of a personality.” Jesus is the God-man. This is the mystery of Christmas.
From eternity Jesus is the Son of God; now at His birth He becomes additionally the Son of Mary. Whereas Adam had a beginning but no birth, our Lord had a birth but no beginning.
Physically, Jesus developed normally as a human being (Luke 2:52). He was hungry and thirsty. He slept and wept. He was tired. When He was speared on the cross, blood and water came from Him. Emotionally He was truly human. Consider His tears, His touch, His tenderness, His compassion, His anger, His sorrow, His love, His grace.
Why is the humanity of Jesus Christ so important? Jesus as the God-man is uniquely qualified to be the perfect Mediator between God and man. If Jesus were only God but not man, He would have no point of contact with us. If Jesus were just a man and not God, He would share our need of salvation. But we need someone who will transform the human situation, not just tell us about it or experience it.
Jesus Christ was born of a woman and therefore truly human. He was born of God and therefore absolutely sinless. When He died on the cross He did not share in our guilt as a sinner, but bore our guilt as a Savior. He does not join us as we kneel in repentance, but lifts us off our knees as forgiven sinners. This is God’s plan of salvation. Receive Him as your Savior and Lord. Love, serve, obey and worship Him.
The Mission of Christmas
The God of all grace is given the name “Jesus” (Matthew 1:21). To hear a person’s name is often to think of his or her main achievement. For example, to say the name “Bill Gates” is to think of computers and Microsoft. To say the name “Einstein” is to think of the theory of relativity. To say the name “Shakespeare” is to think of literature. To say the name “Churchill” is to think of leadership in wartime. To say the name “Manning” is to think of American football.
What comes to your mind when you hear the name “Jesus”? This is the name given to the God-man at His birth. The angel said to Joseph that Jesus is to be His name. Jesus is the Greek form of the Jewish name “Yeshua” (Joshua). “Yeshua” means Yahweh saves. So every time Mary and Joseph called “Jesus,” the message was being proclaimed of Savior, Rescuer, Deliverer.
What is Christ’s greatest accomplishment? It was not His miracles or His insightful teaching or His example of love. The greatest achievement of the God of Christmas is salvation. Sin is a powerful force in our lives and holds us in captivity. The Bible describes our spiritual struggles and failures in various ways.
For example, we are trapped as it were in a sea of mud. The more we struggle to get out, the deeper we sink. We are in a dark pit whose walls are so high that we can’t possibly climb out. We are so terribly ill there is no cure. We are in a prison with no hope of being released. We are lost and don’t know where to go. This is where the mission of Christmas brilliantly shines.
Jesus is a great example, but His example is too high for any of us to keep, left to ourselves. He is a great teacher, but truth by itself can’t save us. If you are drowning, you don’t need someone to shout instructions from the shore. You don’t need a lecture on swimming. You need someone to come into the water and save you.
God’s Son, Jesus, comes to us in our captivity, in our terrible and hopeless dilemma, and rescues us. His death on the cross demonstrates His great love for us in saving us from our sins and paying the price for our deliverance and forgiveness. Jesus is God’s deliverer—this is God’s rescue strategy—He sends Jesus to Earth to save us and to bring us to Heaven. This is the God of all grace, reaching down, down, down to you in the mission of Christmas.
But salvation is only for those who admit that they have failed, that they are sinners. If we could have earned our own salvation, there would be no reason for Jesus Christ to come to this world and to die on the cross. We are not saved by what we do, but by trusting in Jesus Christ, who has done everything. That’s what it means to be saved by grace alone, through faith alone because of Christ alone. And grace means that salvation is offered to us free of charge.
The mission of Christmas is to bring us joy. When the angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds, they were very afraid. Probably the shepherds, realizing their own sinfulness, were expecting a message of judgment, of doom. But the message is “Fear not.”
Some people think they are doomed to live a life of sadness, despair, despondency, fear and hopelessness. They live in fear of others, of failure, of what others think; fear of the future. This year may have been a year of deep disappointments and sadness for you, but great joy is offered to you this Christmas. God wants you to have great joy.
The message from the Savior is of Good News. It comes to all people (Luke 2:10). This includes you and me. Take this very personally. God is speaking to you this Christmas.
He is telling you, “Fear not.” Joy is knowing no fear. God is offering you salvation through Jesus, the Savior. Knowing Jesus as your personal Savior will bring you great joy, which nothing or no one in this world can take away.
Do you now understand why Jesus Christ came to Earth? Do you understand that salvation, joy, forgiveness of sins and eternal life come from the God of Christmas? Do you realize that in order to be right with God you must trust in Jesus Christ personally and receive forgiveness and salvation?
Your goodness, your kindness, your church, your background, your sincerity will not earn your way to Heaven. Christmas is telling us that salvation and admittance to Heaven are not rewards for good conduct on Earth. You may be a churchgoer; you may be religious; you may believe in family values; you may have a Christian heritage; you may have been baptized; you may have gone to church all your life; you may be a member of a church; but apart from the grace of God you will never enter Heaven.
Bob Vernon, formerly with the Los Angeles Police Department, tells of how the department would test bullet-proof vests—and demonstrate to rookie officers their value—by placing them on manikins and then shooting round after round of bullets at them. They then checked to see if any of the rounds penetrated the vest. Invariably, the vest would pass the test with flying colors. Vernon would then turn to the rookie officers and ask, “So, who wants to wear the vest now instead of the manikin?”
Intellectual understanding and making a personal commitment are very different! You may understand the mission of Christmas intellectually. But you may never have personally trusted in Jesus Christ. You know about Christ, but do you know Him? You understand in your head, but has it impacted your heart? You have religion, but do you have a living personal relationship with Jesus Christ? This Christmas will you receive the gift of salvation? This is the mission of Christmas.
John Munro is senior pastor of Calvary Church in Charlotte, N.C.