The most important event in human history was the Incarnation – God coming in the flesh to earth in the person of Jesus Christ. That was not only the turning point of human history, but the one true event of cosmic significance. Everything changed when Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem.
Two thousand years on from that momentous day, the world still commemorates his birth. Yet many folks of course no longer really know what Christmas is all about, and why this time of year is so significant. They are quite aware of the commercialisation and so on, but the real meaning is all but lost.
The Bible, which is the record of God’s dealing with mankind, tells us all about the reason for the Incarnation. It makes it perfectly clear why Jesus came to live among us, and to die a cruel death. And it has little to do with various popular conceptions, many even found in our churches.
Jesus did not come to get us to be better people, or to live more moral lives. Indeed, he did not come as some mere moral teacher, urging us to improve, and to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. He did not come to offer generalised platitudes about being kinder or more loving.
He did not come as some religious guru, to offer us religious instruction as so many others had. He did not come to tell us that we are all a rather nice bunch, and that he is happy with how we are living our lives. He did not come to say ‘you can be a better you’ or ‘you can have your best life now’.
He did not come so that we might become rich, succeed in our careers, have a nice new home, be loved and praised by others, or live a trouble-free life. Most of the reasons so many folks give for the arrival of Jesus – and heard often from so many pulpits – have nothing to do with what Christ himself said about his coming.
He came to save us from our sins, and to get us back into a right relationship with God. That was his mission. That was his purpose for coming. Plenty of times he spoke to his reason for being here. Let me offer just a few such passages.
In Matthew 20:28 we read that “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”. And in Luke 19:10 we find Jesus saying this: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
One of the most famous texts of course is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” And later in John’s gospel we find these remarks by Jesus: “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness” (John 12:46).
Paul gives us more of the same in 1 Timothy 1:15: “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”. And John also speaks to this: “The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8).
All these texts make it quite clear as to the redemptive nature of Christ’s coming. That is the reason for the season. We are all engulfed in a massive sin problem which none of us can extract ourselves from. We are all dead in our sins and selfishness with no way out.
The works of sin, Satan and darkness had to be overcome if we could ever hope to be set free and made right with God again. That is why Jesus came. He was not on about silly sentimentalism or self-improvement or having a successful life and lots of money. He was on about dealing with our core problem.
That is the Christmas message and that is what we must proclaim. The truth of the Incarnation must be stated clearly and forthrightly to a broken and needy world. Indeed, truth in general must be proclaimed, in a culture that denies truth and is immersed in relativism.
Just yesterday morning in a church in Perth I spoke about these matters. I insisted on the importance of truth, and how believers must lead the way in fearlessly promoting and defending truth. I was told later that there were even several non-Christians in that service and they too were quite moved by the words spoken there.
That is because truth is the means by which God works. He can never work apart from truth. The Holy Spirit in conjunction with the proclamation and living of the truth is the most powerful force on earth. As Jesus plainly taught in John 8:32: “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Truth transforms, and believers have an obligation not just in late December but all year round to stand for truth. Indeed, this too is a major reason why Christ came. Recall the words of Jesus in his discussion with Pilate as found in John 18:37:
“‘You are a king, then!’ said Pilate. Jesus answered, ‘You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me’.”
This is why Jesus was born; this is why Jesus came: to testify to the truth. And as you recall, Pilate went on to then ask Jesus, “What is truth?” Incredibly, he did not hang around to get an answer. Here we had perhaps the most important question one could ask, and asked of the most important person to ever walk the planet. Yet he left without hearing the reply!
We dare not be like Pilate. We must learn from Jesus about the truth. And then we must share that with a truth-starved world. People need to hear the truth, not just at Christmas, but every day of the year. We are to be truth-bearers. We are to share the truth of the gospel – always.
So please, explain far and wide to others why Jesus came. Tell people the truth they so much need to hear. That is our calling. That is our mission. Let me finish with the words of Frederick Buechner as he reminds us about the truth of Christmas:
“It is impossible to conceive how different things would have turned out if that birth had not happened whenever, wherever, however it did … for millions of people who have lived since, the birth of Jesus made possible not just a new way of understanding life but a new way of living it. It is a truth that, for twenty centuries, there have been untold numbers of men and women who, in untold numbers of ways, have been so grasped by the child who was born, so caught up in the message he taught and the life he lived, that they have found themselves profoundly changed by their relationship with him.”