On this the Sunday following Christmas the common reaction is to be ready to “move on”. We have done Christmas . . . it’s time to get on with life. But before we move too far from the holiday known as Christmas, it is important that we take one more careful look at what the coming of Christ into the world means to us.
At one time or another, and in one form or another, every one of us has played the game “gossip”. You get a group of people together and then whisper something to one person and then they whisper it to another and so on. When you get to the last person that person shares what they were told and you find that it is very different from the way it started. One pastor played this game at a young-adult retreat, just for fun. The original message was this: “A man attempting to walk a tiger down the street forgot to fasten its collar.” By the time it had gone all around the room, it had become: “A man stood without attire on the street because he had lost his calling.”
The game is great for illustrating the problem of gossip in real life. Obviously, in the course of telling a story the facts often get distorted. But this game can also illustrate one of the reasons God became man. For it shows us what often happened to God’s Word declared by the prophets. God would speak to the prophets, the prophets would speak to the people, the people would speak to each other. In the process many promises and ideas about God were distorted and the people were confused as to who God really was and what His promises were.
The people sometimes thought of God as a distant tyrant. They felt He was unknowable. God was more of a concept than a person. To address this problem “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
Do you remember the movie “O God!” starring George Burns and John Denver? The movie was theologically distorted in most of its teaching but it did have some good moments. In this movie George Burns appears to this supermarket assistant manager (John Denver). He appears as an old man with tennis shoes, wearing glasses and a fishing hat! When asked why he looks the way he does, Burns answers, “I picked a look you could understand.” And that’s about the best description you could find to explain what happened in Bethlehem. God picked a look that we could understand.
Granted, Jesus didn’t come wearing a fishing cap. But he hung around a group of men that may have. He probably even smelled of fish! His hands were calloused from years of handling lumber. His skin was tanned from the Middle Eastern sun. His voice could have been tape recorded, had such a technology existed them. He was as human as we are.
But Jesus was totally God, too. As Bible believing Christians we don’t have a lot of trouble believing this. But we do sometimes stumble when we talk about Jesus as being fully human. Somehow we seem to think that Jesus was God become man . . . .but in a different way than we are. In Jesus, God did not “put on skin” as the lyrics to a popular Christmas song say. He was human in every way we are. The Incarnation not only means we understand God better because he has revealed Himself but that we understand that God understands us as well . . . because He became one of us.
This morning I remind you of the significance of the fact that God became man and dwelt among us.
First, It Means He Felt What We Feel
- HEB 5:7-8 During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered.
If I understand this verse correctly it means that Jesus began his human life without drawing on His eternal wisdom and knowledge. He went through the learning process like we do. Jesus learned how to build things by making mistakes (making mistakes and sinning are not the same thing). He learned how to walk after stumbling and falling and probably had many bruises in the process. He learned how to talk after much coaxing. He went through the painful time of cutting teeth. Jesus learned and grew in the same way the other children in the neighborhood did. The difference was that Jesus did not have a rebel heart toward God. He was not bent on sin, but desired to serve the Father.
- ISAIAH 53:3-4 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.
- Jesus knew what it was like to be hungry and tired. At at least one point He went for forty days without eating.
- He knew what it was like to be lonely and rejected. At a time when he most needed companionship, his friends ran away.
- He knew what it was like to be unappreciated. He healed a man of demons and the man’s neighbors asked him to leave.
- He sought to teach the truth and the teachers rejected Him. They called the one who was one with God a Blasphemer and a demon.
- He knew what it was like to be misunderstood.
- He knew what it was like to be beaten and ridiculed.
- He knew what it was like to face death.
- He knew what it was like to stand at the graveside of a friend.
- Since we don’t hear anything about Joseph after the birth narrative it is likely that Joseph had died before the ministry of the Lord began. This would mean that Jesus knew what it was like to bury a parent. He knew what it was like to grow up without your dad. Jesus knew what it was like to miss someone.
Jesus knows what we are going through. He’s been there, done that. In fact, one of my favorite parts of the the movie, “Oh God” was when God meets John Denver in the bathroom. Denver cuts himself with the razor and he and “god” debate how best to put toilet paper on the cut to stop the bleeding. They debate whether it is better to wet the toilet paper or to put it on dry. God understands the everyday occurrences of life. He also knows what it is like to face the big things of life.
HE ALSO FACED WHAT WE FACE
This is something we don’t think about. In the book of Hebrews we read, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin.” (HEB 4:15)
Do you hear what the Bible says? He was tempted in all the ways we are tempted.
- He was tempted to seek His desires above the Fathers. In the garden He literally sweat blood under what seems to be tremendous pressure to give in to continue His ministry rather than follow God’s will.
- He was surely tempted by sex. Jesus had hormones like the rest of us.
- He was tempted to shade the truth to gain an advantage.
- He was tempted to strike out in anger or bitterness.
- He was tempted to lose faith in the midst of His trials.
I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. Do you realize that Jesus not only faced the same kind of temptations we face . . . He faced much greater temptations? We tend to think just the opposite. We feel that because He was God become man He had an advantage. We feel that because He was sinless, He has no concept of the struggle we face.
Imagine two bridges. They look exactly the same but they are built differently. The one bridge collapses after only a few cars had gotten over it. As soon as it faced stress on it’s structure, it collapses. The other bridge stood even during bumper to bumper traffic. Now . . . which bridge endured greater stress? The one that collapsed or the one that stood firm? It was the one that stood. The first one collapsed at the beginning of pressure the other continued to endure that pressure and more.
Jesus more than understands what we are facing. The difference between Jesus and us is this: when we are tempted we cave in. When Jesus was tempted He resisted, and resisted, and resisted. He endured, we seldom do. He knows the full force of temptation, we only know what the initial stages are like.
During difficult times we tend to believe we can’t go to the Lord. He wouldn’t understand. We are embarrassed by our struggle and so we try to hide it. How foolish. The Lord DOES understand. He not only understands, He knows how to gain victory in even the most fierce temptation. We can talk to Him, we can draw strength from Him, we can learn from Him.
HE KNOWS WHERE WE ARE GOING
Our Lord has lived the life we have lived. But he has also faced what we have not. Jesus actually died. He knows what is on the other side of the grave. How many of us have said to someone, “I’m not afraid of death . . . I’m afraid of dying!” It is the big unknown in our life. People will endure great things to keep from dying. It’s true that we don’t want to die because we don’t want to leave the ones we love . . . but it is more true that we don’t want to die because we are afraid of it.
Jesus HAS experienced death. He has been through it. In fact, Jesus experienced a death that most of us will never face. We’ve talked about how Jesus came to help us know God in a personal way. But let’s be clear: Jesus did not just come as an advertisement for God. Jesus came to give His life to pay for the sin that separates us from God! When Jesus died He faced the wrath of God on our behalf. He endured the punishment we deserve! Because Jesus died for our sin, those who trust Him will never have to face the death He faced for us! Our death yields life, not wrath.
Jesus knows the way! He also knows how to get to the other side. In defeating death; in breaking death’s strangle grip on life, Jesus did what all of us want to do. He alone has been victorious. He alone knows the way through “the dark valley of the shadow of death”. It is our Lord Jesus who alone can can take our hand and lead us to victory over death as well.
Jesus died like we will die. He knew the pain. He knew the separation. But He also knows the victory. And He wants to lead us to that Victory too.
So, with all this in mind let me draw some conclusions,
First, Jesus knows what we are really like and still loves us. The Biblical testimony is that “Jesus knew what was in a man”. He understood our duplicity. He knew that many good acts are done for self-serving reasons. He knows that people tend to hide the real “them” in public. The very things that we would hate for people to know about us . . . . Jesus knows.
Aren’t we foolish sometimes? We make a mistake and then we come to God in prayer and try to cover up our sin! How stupid is that? We act like we can relate to God as we do other people. We think if we put on a good front, keep a smile on our face, and say the right words God will think that is the real us. But God sees our hearts, He knows what goes on in a human heart. He knows the whispers that lead us astray and the urges we battle. But the good news it this: He knows what we are like and loves us still.
Let that sink in! You don’t have to pretend anymore. You don’t have to hide. You can be honest with God. The Lord wants to love and lead the REAL you.
Second, Jesus knows what we need, and provides it. Our Lord understands heartache. He understands weakness. He understands those feelings of being alone. Because He understands He meets us at our need.
- to the one who is lonely He gives His presence
- to the one who has experienced moral failure He give his forgiveness
- to the one encountering depression He seeks to give perspective and joy
- to the one who feels separated from God or others, He leads us to reconciliation
- to the one enduring great sorrow, He gives hope.
- to the one facing a major decision, He gives wisdom
- to the one needing resources, He provides for their needs.
Third, He Knows the temptations we meet and how to defeat them. Jesus knows how to endure through tempting times and can and will help us. For the one facing a temptation to be unfaithful He can show you the way and give you the strength to honor your promises. For the one facing the temptation to cheat, cut corners, or to use others, He can give you the strength to trust God and to do things His way.
Paul promises us, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Cor. 10:13) There is NO temptation that is unique to you. And whatever the temptation . . . there IS a way out. And the promise is that God will help us. We are never in a position where we “had no other choice”. There is ALWAYS a way out. And Jesus will show us that way.
Finally, He has faced our greatest fear and gained victory over it. Death is no longer the great “unknown” to the believer. Death is a transition. Death loses it’s sting because the element of surprise and fear is gone.
So, you see my friends, Christ’s coming into the world was not just a act to be celebrated during the holidays. It is an act to be celebrated every day. Christ’s coming to the world was designed so that God could experience what we experience and so that He could speak the truth to us in language and in a form we might understand.
But don’t miss the verses in this same chapter of John. “He came unto His own . . . and His own did not receive Him.” Friends, it matters little what the practical aspects of Christmas are if you are not willing to entrust yourself to Him. “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19). Which do you love? Do you love the darkness? Do you think it is cool to continue to live your life without any thought of the Lord? Or are you willing to follow the light? Are you willing to trust yourself this day to
- The one who understands you
- The one who loves you
- The one who can alone meet your needs
- The one who has faced what you face
He is a Savior that you can trust. He is a Savior who understands. He is a Savior you can count on. He is a Savior who will lead you home . . . if you let Him.
So, now we watch Christmas in the rearview mirror. And as the gifts you received wear out, lose their value, or diminish in their attraction, I urge you to cherish the gift that only gets better as the years go by.