I enjoy reading Presidential biographies. Part of the reason I enjoy these works is because I like reading about what really happened behind of the scenes of some of the events that changed the world. I enjoyed reading about the back room dealings that Harry Truman had to endure and how Richard Nixon prayed with Henry Kissinger before leaving office. I remember the heart-tugging account of Jimmy Carter’s frustrating attempts to rescue the hostages in Iran before he left office only to have them deliberately released just after President Reagan was sworn in. I even enjoyed reading the real stories of what happened behind the Dan Quayle anecdotes. It is interesting to be able to go “behind the scenes”.
Wouldn’t it be something to be able to go behind the scenes in Heaven and hear the conversation that the Son had with the Father before He came to earth at Christmas? Well maybe we can . . .
[Heb. 10:5 through Heb. 10:7 (NIV)] Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll— I have come to do your will, O God.’ “
The Son turns to the Father as He is getting ready to leaves and says, “I understand what the mission is. Sacrifices were never able to cleanse someone from their sin. They pointed to a perfect sacrifice. You have prepared a body for me so that I could be that perfect sacrifice. I have come to do your will.” With that Jesus came to earth with the knowledge that He was coming to suffer and die.
This Christmas season we need to understand there is no salvation story if Jesus had not died as He did. There is no salvation just in His birth. Jesus did a lot of things: He showed us God’s love, He taught us God’s truth, He brought comfort to the suffering but . . . none of those things were sufficient to bring us salvation. Jesus could have done all of these things without ever coming to earth. He could have sent an angel . . . He could have appeared in His power and glory. But He took on that prepared body for one purpose . . . to give His life in exchange for ours.
John MacArthur writes,
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 walk up a dusty hill to be nailed to a cross. That sweet infant’s head with sparking 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. [GOD WITH US, MacArthur p. 116]
By taking time to think about why Jesus came to die, I believe we can come to appreciate what the Christmas message so much more. If we turn over to Hebrews 2 we can learn some of the reasons Jesus came to die.
Jesus tasted death for everyone in all the world. . . Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—Jesus also became flesh and blood by being born in human form. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the Devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he deliver those who have lived all their lives as slaves to the fear of dying. . .Therefore, it was necessary for Jesus to be in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. He then could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. Since he himself has gone through suffering and temptation, he is able to help us when we are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:9-18]
HIS DEATH WAS IN OUR PLACE
We are told that Jesus “tasted death for everyone” and that “he offered a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the world.” Jesus came to die because that was the only way you and I could live. When He was nailed to the cross He was nailed there as our substitute.
The greatest theological dilemma of all time was this: How can a Holy God extend love to his sinful creation? If God overlooked sin He would be unjust . . . He would be soft on sin, would be compromising with evil and no longer holy. On the other hand, if he treated our sin with justice he has to send us to eternal punishment. There was only one way to preserve justice and mercy and that was for the Son of God to be our substitute.
Let me illustrate. Suppose I had committed a terrible crime. It was a premeditated act and I was guilty. Suppose I was arrested and sentenced to death. When the time of my execution someone else came near. They pleaded with the court on my behalf. Now suppose the court argued that for justice to be done, the crime would have to be punished. Now suppose that my advocate agreed that justice must be done . . . the crime must be paid for with an execution. Then suppose this advocate offered to take my name and my punishment. Justice would be fulfilled . . . punishment would have been dispensed. I would go free.
Would I deserve such a gift? No. Would I be free from my debt . . . yes and no. The debt I had to the state would be fulfilled. My crime had been paid for. But my debt of gratitude would remain.
A.W. Pink wrote,
It was not that an innocent person was smitten in order that guilty ones might go free, for that would be the height of injustice, but that an innocent Person, voluntarily, out of love, identified Himself with transgressors, and so became answerable for their crimes. How this should endear Him to us! [A.W. Pink EXPOSITION OF HEBREWS Vol. 1 p. 131]
Christ came to die . . . and the point of that death was to free you and I! Again, John MacArthur writes,
The death He tasted was the penalty of our sin. He received the full force of all that the devil could throw at Him. More than that, He received the full expression of God’s wrath over sin. In a few hours on that cross, Jesus absorbed the full penalty of sin. If we were to suffer hell for all eternity, we would never pay the full price. But He gathered up an eternity of punishment, paid it all, and walked away from it a risen Savior. That is power! In every possible dimension, Jesus Christ took all the pain and agony of death and tasted every bit of it — for us. [MacArthur p. 119]
When we read that Jesus tasted death for everyone it is important that we don’t misunderstand what is being said. We’re not saying that by dying on the cross everyone is forgiven. We often hear it said that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. That is true . . . in one sense. However, we must make an important clarification. Jesus’ death was SUFFICIENT for the sins of the whole world but His death was EFFICIENT only those who believe.
Here’s the distinction. There was enough value in Christ’s life to pay for everyone’s sin. But God has determined that only those who receive this forgiveness will have it applied to them. Jesus makes it possible for you and I to live beyond the grave. It is vital that we understand that it is ONLY Jesus who makes this possible. We don’t find forgiveness and new life by being good, or by being religious, or by going to church. We find new life by placing our confidence in what Christ has done for us. We find new life by following Him. He alone leads the way.
HIS DEATH MAKES US NEW
Again we read,
Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises.”
Christ makes it possible for you and I not only to be forgiven but for us to become children of God and holy in God’s sight. Christ made it possible for you and I to become new people. We are not just forgiven . . . we are transformed! We are not just paroled . . . we are pardoned. We are not just pardoned . . . we are made a part of the family!
Jesus said, “I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises.” Jesus is not ashamed to call us his family.
Think about this for a minute. Most of us have friends or family members that we don’t really want to claim. They may have odd behaviors or tainted reputations. Perhaps they act inappropriately when they are with others or have personalities that grind on us. You don’t go out of your way to identify yourself with these folks.
Jesus sees the way we are but does not disown us. He is not ashamed to call us his family. He is proud that we belong to Him. His love is unrestricted. He is helping us overcome our flaws and failures. He is there to pick us up when we fail.
Do you remember back in your dating days? Maybe you can dimly remember that first time the one you loved took your hand in public. Your heart beat faster. You started to sweat. Why? Because it is a big moment when a relationship “goes public”. The other person is not ashamed to be known as your girlfriend or boyfriend. By taking your hand in public they are declaring that you are their special someone. When Christ came to earth and died in our place he “took our hand in public”. Jesus made a public declaration that He loved us. Please, let that sink in.
May I speak candidly? Do we have that same attitude to the Lord? How many times have we been ashamed to number ourselves as his followers? How many times have we been embarrassed of Him? We are fickle. He is not. We tend to affirm Him when it is advantageous . . . He affirms His love to us to anyone who will listen. We owe it to Him to represent Him well.
HIS DEATH DEFEATED SATAN AND THE POWER OF DEATH
Our author wrote, “he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”
Do you notice the things the death of Christ accomplishes? First, in His death He defeats the Evil One. The Devil still pursues us . . . but He cannot touch us. He is a defeated enemy. He can do nothing to us unless we invite Him to.
He also defeated the power and the fear of death in the believer. You and I stumble over these words because we don’t feel like death has been defeated in our lives. We feel like death dogs our steps every day. But this is because we don’t understand what Jesus accomplished. Death has no power over us anymore.
- Because of Christ’s death for us, the Devil (and death) has no real claim on us
- Consequently death is no longer punishment . . . it is release. It is no longer the end . . .it is the beginning.
- We have the promise that Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us.
- We no longer are worried over whether we will “make it” to Heaven because Jesus has taken care of that for us.
- We can see death as the absence of evil and the presence of all that is good . . .it is Heaven.
- We don’t have to be afraid of dying because the Lord has promised to take our hand.
Maggie has a friend who sent us a Christmas card and told us of the death of her husband suddenly this last year. When Maggie called her to express her condolences her friend told the story. Her husband a strong Christian was discovered to be filled with cancer. There was nothing Doctors could do. In three months he was dead. In the short time he had left He lived boldly for the Lord. That friend said she was looking into the eyes of her husband when he died and she said, “I saw paradise in his eyes”. Peace filled her heart in this time of greatest devastation. The fear of death was gone. And this grieving widow now has a hunger for Heaven that dominates everything else in her life. She caught a glimpse of paradise.
Catherine Marshall tells of the death of her husband Pastor Peter Marshall who served for a time as Senate Chaplain. When Peter died suddenly of a heart attack at 46 Catherine said she knew saw the angels in that room comforting her. She was filled with peace and the confidence that Peter was indeed home with the Lord. After almost an hour, the angels left and the room became cold. Mrs. Marshall knew that it was time to leave. The loss was difficult, but her peace was sure. She had a glimpse of paradise.
When Dwight Moody was dying he suddenly sat up and said, “O my, it’s wonderful!” His children thought he was hallucinating . . .but he assured them that he was not. He too had caught a glimpse of heaven.
Not all of us get such a glimpse but these accounts remind us that this life is not all there is. There is life . . .glorious life, beyond the grave. When we place our faith in what Christ did for us on the cross, our ticket is punched . . .we have reservations in Heaven. Christ did not come simply to give us a birthday to celebrate . . . He came to bring us eternal life and to free us from the fear of death.
HIS DEATH MEANS WE DO NOT HAVE TO FACE LIFE ALONE
We conclude our passage with these great words, “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” His death sets us free from our past, it makes us His brothers, it frees us from the fear and power of death and it sets Christ in a perfect position to help us in our times of difficulty.
In order for Jesus to give the needed sacrifice he had to live without sin. He not only had to be without sin . . . He needed to be without sin even though He was tempted in every way we are tempted. In other words, He had to resist temptation that we succumb to. He had to overcome what often overwhelms us. He had to face the full force of temptation and the pains of life. He understands not only what we are going through . . . He knows what it takes to faithfully get through these times.
When Jesus went to the cross He went through the same things you and I go through. He faced life’s difficulties and overcame them. He faced life’s hardships yet remained faithful. He understands what you and I are going through . . . and He can help. He offers His strength, His wisdom, His life, His perspective. His death makes it possible for us to overcome the temptations, the frustrations, and the heartaches of life.
The good news of Christmas is that even though you may feel desperately alone . . . you are not. You may feel that life is hopeless but it’s not. You may feel that you have no where to turn . . . but you do. His arms are open.
So, you see, if we don’t understand why He came . . . if we only see the manger and don’t see the cross . . .we have missed the point.
I know this is a hectic time for most of us. I don’t want to burden you further I want you to know the freedom Christ brings. And to do that I have to give you some ideas or assignments.
- Find a quiet place and think about the worst things you have ever done in your life. Then “see”Jesus taking those things with Him as He went to the cross. See your sin being paid for by His sacrifice. Feel the sense of relief. Experience the joy. Express the gratitude.
- Go to a cemetery or get out the pictures of those you love and have died. Realize that those loved ones who died in the Lord are not gone . . . they are with Him. Try to imagine Heaven. Try to catch a glimpse of paradise. Then, instead of running from your memories, celebrate the memory of the one who touched your life. Express your pain but also rest in His peace and in the joyful anticipation of a future reunion
- Make a list of your burdens and lay them on a table and ask God for His help. Know that He understands and trust that He will help you.
- Look for ways to declare your allegiance to the Lord this Christmas. You don’t have to be obnoxious just work at letting the light of Christ shine in your life. Remind people of the real message of Christmas.
- Finally, evaluate your own spiritual status. As we light our candles, may I ask: does the light of Jesus shine in your life? Have you put your trust and confidence in Christ’s sacrifice on your behalf or are you trusting your own efforts and devices? Jesus’ primary purpose in coming to earth was not so you could admire Him, celebrate Him, or debate Him. His primary purpose in coming was to set you free. He came to set you free from your past, your failures, and your broken dreams. And the only way to know this freedom is to place your confidence, your hope, and your faith in what Christ has done for you. In other words, the only way to know eternal life, the only way to truly celebrate Christmas is to turn to the cross and receive what Christ did for you there. Take a moment tonight to express to God your gratitude for His provision and your willingness to trust Him and Him alone for your life and eternity.
Of all the memories you may establish this Christmas, my deepest hope is that your greatest memory of this Christmas will be that this is the year that you looked beyond the stable and saw the shadow of a cross and an empty tomb and that this is year that you met the one who loved you enough to die for you.