My sermon series for the month of December will center on this joy-full theme with this, perhaps unexpected, verse as the centerpiece. "Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:2)
It is easy to find joy in the birth of a baby. Just ask anyone who has experienced such a moment lately. Grandparents will immediately whip out photos and gladly bend your ear ad nauseum about the marvelous happening. Parents will smile with tired eyes and tell you about the latest accomplishment of their unique darling. Even total strangers will stop and coo at small child.
Yes, finding joy in the birth of a child is easy. Looking to a cross and sacrifice and blood and beatings and sin makes it difficult to find joy. Maybe this is why we so readily celebrate the birth of Jesus and so tacitly speak of His death. I find it interesting and instructive that the Bible speaks very little about His birth but testifies at length about His death and resurrection. Could it be that we have the focus out of focus?
The next four weeks I will offer messages designed to refocus our attention in this season of joy.
- November 30 - "The Reason" Luke 19:10 - The joy of Christmas is not found in the cradle. The joy of Christmas is found at the cross.
- December 7 - "The Heart" 1 Samuel 16:7 - The joy of Christmas is not found in the externals. The joy of Christmas is found in the internal.
- December 14 - "The Call" 1 Timothy 6:12 - The joy of Christmas will not be found at the mall. The joy of Christmas will be found in the call.
- December 21 - "The Coming King" Revelation 22:12-21 - The joy of Christmas is not in the coming of a child. The joy of Christmas is in the coming of the King!
Incarnation. A Latin word meaning "in the flesh." In Jesus, God becomes one of us. Eugene Peterson beautifully, and memorably, phrases John 1:14, "The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood." Imagine that! God moving in just down the street from you. In Jesus, that is exactly what happened.
There are some who would say Jesus was just a man who exhibited godly qualities. Others would say He was just God who took on some human qualities. This simply is not an option from the Biblical witness. Scripture is abundantly clear that Jesus was God in the flesh. The creator come to the creation. Or, as W.H. Auden wrestles with this mystery, "How could the Eternal do a temporal act,/ The infinite become a finite fact?" (For the Time Being, W.H. Auden)
Let's be clear, God did not take on human flesh in order to better understand us. He took on human flesh so we could better understand Him! Our understanding of Him is clarified once and for all at the cross, which leads us to another big word...
Substitution. We all understand the concept of substitution. We've experienced substitute teachers or been a sub in a basketball game or accepted a substitute item at a restaurant that was out of what we wanted. A substitute takes the place of another and that is just what Jesus did for us. The Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:21, "For our sake He [God] made Him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him [Jesus] we might become the righteousness of God." He takes our place. Jesus pays a price He does not owe. The price you and I owe.
Again, let's be clear, Jesus did not take our place because He owed some sort of debt. He took our place because we owed so great a debt we could never pay it. He took our place because He loved us. The incarnation was necessary for Jesus to become our substitute. And in His substitutionary death we discover the third big word....
Salvation. Jesus made it abundantly clear that He was here for one reason, "to seek and to save the lost." (Luke 19:10) In case you are wondering just who the lost are, it's us. Every single one of us.
"We never outgrow the fact that we are sinners still, totally dependent each day on the grace of God to the undeserving. We do not come to offer in the first place; we come to receive...We are the hungry, coming to be fed. We are the undeserving welcomed freely at the Lord's table." (Michael Green, "His sacrifice and ours")