That first Christmas, earth was oblivious to the significance of a simple birth in a quiet town. But heaven wasn’t. The holy angels waited in anticipation to break forth in praise and worship and adoration at the birth of the newborn Christ. This Child’s birth meant deliverance for mankind. The angel told Joseph: “He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
Unlike Isaac, who ascended the mountain unaware he was to be the sacrifice, Jesus descended from heaven in full awareness of what the Father had in store for Him. Scripture records for us what may have been a farewell message Jesus gave just prior to His incarnation.
When He comes into the world, He says, “Sacrifice and offering You have not desired, but a body You have prepared for Me; in whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have taken no pleasure.” Then I said, “Behold, I have come … to do Your will, O God” (Hebrews 10:5-7).
That passage of Scripture gives us a remarkable look at the heart of the Savior before His birth. He knew He was entering the world to be the final and ultimate sacrifice for sin. His body had been divinely prepared by God specifically for that purpose. Jesus was going to die for the sins of the world, and He knew it. Moreover, He was doing it willingly. That was the whole point of the incarnation.
The important issue of Christmas is not so much that Jesus came, but why He came. There was no salvation in His birth. Nor did the sinless way He lived His life have any redemptive force of its own. His example, as flawless as it was, could not rescue men from their sins. Even His teaching, the greatest truth ever revealed to man, could not save us from our sins. There was a price to be paid for our sins. Someone had to die. Only Jesus could do it.
Jesus came to earth, of course, to reveal God to mankind. He came to teach truth. He came to fulfill the Law. He came to offer His kingdom. He came to show us how to live. He came to reveal God’s love. He came to bring peace. He came to heal the sick. He came to minister to the needy.
But all those reasons are incidental to His ultimate purpose. He could have done them all without being born as a human. He could have simply appeared — like the angel of the Lord often did in the Old Testament—and accomplished everything in the list above, without actually becoming a man. But He had one more reason for coming: He came to die.
Here’s a side to the Christmas story that isn’t often told: Those soft little hands, fashioned by the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb, were made so that nails might be driven through them. Those baby feet, pink and unable to walk, would one day stagger up a dusty hill to be nailed to a cross. That sweet infant’s head with sparkling eyes and eager mouth was formed so that someday men might force a crown of thorns onto it. That tender body, warm and soft, wrapped in swaddling clothes, would one day be ripped open by a spear.
Jesus was born to die.
Don’t think I’m trying to put a damper on your Christmas spirit. Far from it — for Jesus’ death, though devised and carried out by men with evil intentions, was in no sense a tragedy. In fact, it represents the greatest victory over evil anyone has ever accomplished.
The author of Hebrews illustrates how the full story of His birth includes His sacrificial death:
But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings. … Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives (Hebrews 2:9-10, 14-15).
It’s appropriate to commemorate the birth of Christ. But don’t make the mistake of leaving Him as a baby in a manger. Keep in mind that His birth was just the first step in God’s glorious plan of redemption. Remember that it’s the triumph of Christ’s sacrificial death that gives meaning to His humble birth. You can’t truly celebrate one without the other.
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