Tomorrow we celebrate Christmas. Most Christians view it as the Birth of Christ. But was Christ born on December 25? It is highly unlikely.
Luke 2:7-8 (NKJV) "And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. 8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night."
Shepherds living in the fields could never have occurred in Palestine in the month of December. The shepherds always brought their flocks from the mountainsides and fields and corralled them, not later than October 15, to protect them from the cold, rainy season that followed that date.
The date came from a pagan holiday of Saturnalia. This was a Roman observance of the birthday of the "Invincible Sun" on December 25. The celebration consisted of feasts, parades, gift giving, lighted candles, and green trees. Many of our Christmas customs have their origins in Saturnalia. This pagan holiday was Christianized in 336 A.D. by the Emperor Constantine. He declared Christ's birthday an official Roman holiday. Chrysostom, the early church father, rebuked Christians for adopting this pagan holiday, but it stuck.
When you think about Christmas, what comes to your mind? Do you think of the Birth of Jesus Christ? Are you reminded that God sent his Son to earth that He might die for our sins? The birth of Jesus Christ is a miraculous event of great significance to mankind, and I think it is fine to celebrate it on December 25. But I'm afraid that associating it with Christmas and all the myths that go with it, like Santa Claus, may make His birth seem insignificant. I think in our country, Santa plays a bigger part in Christmas than does Jesus. Why mix the birth of Jesus Christ in with all the pagan myths? It just seems to belittle the importance of his birth. It makes it seem like just another one of the fables associated with Christmas.
The birth of Jesus Christ is too important to smother it with Christmas. The only way to sort through all of the commercialization and paganness (I invented that word) of Christmas is to remember the significance of Christ's birth to our lives. Let's look at the Biblical account of Christ's birth, and see if we can understand its significance to us:
Matthew 1:18 (NKJV) "Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.
Mary had been "betrothed" (which means: "solemnly promised in marriage") to Joseph. Betrothal among the Jews was not like our present day engagement. It was far more serious and binding.
The bridegroom and bride pledged their troth, meaning:"faithfulness and loyalty" to each other in the presence of witnesses. According to the Old Testament regulations, unfaithfulness in a betrothed woman was punishable with death (Deut. 22:23-24). A betrothed couple was considered as legally married, even though they did not live together or have any physical relationships. This period normally lasted twelve months and served as a period of protection to establish each partner's fidelity.
Our text says, "before they came together," in other words, it was during the betrothal period, before they began living together and before there were any sexual relations, that - "she was found with child of the Holy Spirit." Mary discovered her pregnancy while she was still a virgin, they had not yet married in the full sense of the term.
Mary knew immediately the cause of her condition, because the angel Gabriel had told her that this would happen (Luke 1:26-35). Think about this, ladies: you're engaged, but you have never had sexual relations with a man, and you find out you're pregnant with God's Son. How would you respond? It would have been difficult for Mary to protect her reputation. What would she tell people? "I've never been unfaithful, the child I'm pregnant with is God's Son." How many people do you think would believe that one? Would you believe it? This was no natural pregnancy; it was miraculous, it was the divinely conceived birth of God in human flesh.
The virgin birth was prophesied in the Old Testament; God had told us what he was going to do, it would be a supernatural act - something that had never happened before and would never happen again. Several Old Testament passages speak of this virgin birth.
Genesis 3:15 (NKJV) "And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.""
"Her seed" is an expression used nowhere else in Scripture. Only one time in the history of the world did a woman ever have a seed, which normally is ascribed to the man.
Isaiah 7:14 (NKJV) "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel."
The truth of the virgin birth is very important. For Jesus to be God, He must be born of God. Joseph, a man, and Mary, a woman, cannot produce God. God cannot be born into this world by natural human processes. There's no way He could be God apart from being conceived by God.
Naturally Joseph became aware of Mary's condition. His reaction is described in:
Matthew 1:19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.
Just imagine how Joseph felt! Men, how do you think you would respond if the girl you loved and were engaged to marry told you she was pregnant, and you had never had a sexual relationship with her? Joseph's natural response was that Mary had been unfaithful to him. I'm sure he was deeply hurt, how could she do this to him?
Because he was a righteous man, Joseph, therefore, could not marry Mary who was now thought to be unfaithful. And because such a marriage would have been a tacit admission of his own guilt, and also because he was unwilling to expose her to the disgrace of public divorce, Joseph, therefore, chose a quieter way, permitted by the law itself. The full rigor of the law might have led to Mary's stoning, though that was rarely carried out in the first century. Still, a public divorce was possible, but Joseph was unwilling to expose Mary to such shame. Men, would you be so kind in a situation like his?
Matthew 1:20 But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.
Though Joseph had decided on the action he needed to take, he found it almost impossible to carry it out. While he was mulling these things over, an angel appears to him in a dream and imparts to him the information that had already been given to Mary, namely, that it is by the power of the Holy Spirit, and not the natural way, that Mary has conceived. Joseph must have been relieved, Mary had not been unfaithful after all! The faith of both of them must have been very strong to believe this incredible message of a virgin birth of God's Son.
Matthew 1:21 "And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins." 22 So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 23 "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which is translated, "God with us."
This has got to be the greatest miracle, the most fantastic truth recorded in the pages of Scripture, God became a man. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the incarnation, God becoming a man. John said, "...the Word became flesh and dwelt among us...." (John 1:14).
Jesus Christ became a man of flesh and blood. This is what we call the "incarnation." It is a Latin word meaning: "in flesh." What exactly does this mean? What is the incarnation? It is this: God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, who was eternal in the Godhead at a point of time, took unto himself human nature and identified not only with our nature, but the conditions in which we live on this earth. The person of Christ always has been, but at a point in time, he began to be what he eternally was not, a man, yet he did not cease to be God.
Max Lucado creates a hypothetical conversation between a skeptic and a preacher - discussing the incarnation:
"You mean to tell me God became a baby...and that he was born in a sheep stable?"
"Yes, that is what I mean to say..."
"and then after becoming a baby, he was raised in a blue-collar home? He never wrote any books or held any offices, yet he called himself the Son of God?"
"That is right."
"He never traveled outside his own country, never studied in a university, never lived in a palace, and yet asked to be regarded as the creator of the universe?"
"And this crucifixion story...he was betrayed by his own people? No followers came to his defense? And then he was executed like a common junkyard thief?"
"That's the gist of it."
"And according to what's written, after three days in the grave he was resurrected and made appearances to over five hundred people?"
"Doesn't that all sound rather absurd?"
"Yes, I suppose it does sound absurd, doesn't it?"
People have been engaging in this kind of dialogue regarding Jesus Christ for centuries. The Incarnation is an incredible story of God's love for you and for me.
You might ask, "Is it a big deal that we believe that Jesus Christ was the God-Man?" Yes, it is a very big deal!
1 John 4:3 (NKJV) and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world."
Anyone who denies the historical event of the incarnation is of the spirit of anti-Christ. Jesus became a man in every respect, except for sin. That is the meaning of the incarnation, but what is it's purpose? Why did God become a man? The answer is found in verse 21 of our text:
Matthew 1:21 "And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins."
He was born to die! The reason that Jesus was born a baby in Bethlehem was specifically that He might die. The pre-incarnate Christ couldn't die for us, God cannot die. He became a man to die. The ultimate purpose was that by that death as a man, a sinless man, he may redeem man. As a sinless substitute, he satisfied the just demands of a holy God.
1 Peter 3:18 (NKJV) For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit,
"For Christ also suffered once for sins" It's hard to understand how this innocent child born at Bethlehem would be required to die for the sins of the human race, but that is what Jesus came to do.
"The just for the unjust." One of the greatest mysteries of the gospel is that a holy God would choose to love unholy people. We can't explain it; we can only embrace it. The just God died for unjust man. If it hadn't been for Jesus, if it hadn't been for the gift of his birth, we would have been served justice rather than mercy. And justice means that we go to Hell, which is eternal torment.
Romans 6:23 (NKJV) For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Because of the wonderful mercy of God, we can sing, "Joy To The World."
"For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God" Why would God send his only son into this world, knowing it would lead to death? He did it for you. He did it for everyone of us. He did it so he could bring us to Himself.
John 3:16 (NKJV) ""For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."
2 Corinthians 9:15 (NKJV) "Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!"
Our Lord's birth was a fantastic miracle, it was God becoming man. The purpose for his birth was that he might die for our sins.
There is a story about an elderly woman who was being called on by her pastor. As the pastor sat by her sick bed, the woman said: "Well, I've had a long life, and a good life. And I've tried to do the right thing. I've never wanted to hurt anybody. And I've tried to keep the 10 Commandments as best as I could."
The pastor who was listening began to think to himself: "Not dear old Suzie Johnson. After all the words of the gospel she's heard throughout her life, her Christian education, the sermons she's heard - still believing that she is saved by her own works?"
The woman continued: "So I've tried to live the best life I could, pastor. But I know that's not good enough. I know I've broken God's law over and over again. But thank God I am saved through the merits of Jesus Christ. He's done that for me, which I am unable to do. I can look forward to the end of life trusting in His grace and mercy."
And the Pastor smiled.
And that makes me smile too, for that woman put her trust in Christ, and Christ alone. That woman believed that God gave her eternal life as a gift, as a present, not as something she had to earn, or achieve herself.
How about you, have you put your trust in Christ alone? Will you trust His work on the cross to pay for your sin debt? By faith in Jesus Christ you can receive the greatest gift of all, eternal life. Christmas is not a religious holiday, but you can make it one for you, by putting your trust in Jesus Christ this Christmas.
For those of us who know and love the Lord Jesus Christ, let's use Christmas as a time to focus on His birth, that incomprehensible miracle of the eternal God becoming man.