Let me ask you a question: Why do we have Christmas? Now, I don’t mean what is the economic, or political, or social reason. I mean the ideological, the ontological, reason. What is Christmas for? What are we celebrating? Of course, there are a myriad of answers. If you were an outsider looking into the American culture, you'd probably think that Christmas for any one of the following:
• Santa Claus, his reindeers, his elves, snow • Reruns of Frosty the Snowman, A White Christmas, A Christmas Story, Home Alone, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and other Christmas classics • Christmas albums and Christmas caroling • Christmas cards, gifts, decorating trees, colorful packaging, roaring fires, bright decorations, Christmas lights • Family, cheer, joy, love, peace, good will towards men, the Christmas spirit • Nativity scenes, a church event, Christmas plays
Now of course, many of these things are good, and even very good. And all of things have come to be synonymous with Christmas.
But don't you dare let them define it.
If we were to strip all of these things away — Santa, the gifts, the trees, the songs, the holiday cheer, even the family — we would still have Christmas. It might look very different, but the core essence, the necessities, of what Christmas is, would still remain. Christmas existed before all of these things became associated with the Christmas holiday. Thus Christmas means something above all the trappings.
Back to our question: why do we have Christmas? I'm a Christian, and you all know what I'm going to say: "We have Christmas to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ."
But if I stopped there, I'd be wrong. To say that we have Christmas to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, period, is simply incomplete. It is better said this way: We have Christmas to celebrate God coming into the world — to do what? — to die. Christmas is the celebration of the fact that Jesus Christ came into the world — to die for sin. If you take anything away from this article, take this: Christmas is the celebration that Jesus Christ came into the world to die for sin.
Let's turn to the Bible to see from Jesus' own mouth why this is. It says in the book of Hebrews:
Hebrews 10:5-7 5 Therefore when He [that is Jesus Christ] comes into the world, He says, "Sacrifice and offering You have not desired, But a body You have prepared for Me; 6 In whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have taken no pleasure. 7 Then I said, 'Behold, I have come (In the scroll of the book it is written of Me) To do Your will, O God.' "
I want us to see three things from this text:
I. Christ did not come into the world to do religious good works II. Christ came into the world to die for sin III. Christmas is about the gospel of Jesus Christ
I. Christ did not come into the world to do religious good works (5a, 5b, 6)
1. The Failure of Manmade Religion
When Jesus came into the world, He did not come to participate in the popular religious practices of His day. By the time He entered the world as a man, Judaism had become entirely corrupt. The "sacrifice and offering" spoken of in verse 5 had been twisted from their former meaning into religious deeds that one did to earn God's favor, love, and blessing. The teachers of Jesus' day taught, "God loves good people. Therefore, be good, and then God will love you" (c.f. Matthew 23:1; Luke 18:9-14). Their thinking was simple: "Do good, and God will do good to you. Do evil, and He will punish you."
But that's not what Jesus taught. He says in verse 5, "Sacrifice and offering" — acts of worship originally intended for good, but twisted into religious works done to merit God's approval — "You have not desired." It continues, and in verse 6 He says, "In whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have taken no pleasure." In saying this, Jesus is saying, "I did not come to do religious good works. God takes no pleasure in them. He does not want it."
2. The Failure of Good Intentions
So many people get confused on this point. You see, Jesus didn't come into the world do a bunch of good things, and then teach others to do a bunch of good things. He never taught people, "Be good, and then God will love you." He never taught, "Be like me, and you'll earn your way to heaven." He wasn't like spiritual gurus of today. He wasn't a moral teacher, or a positivist. And He certainly wasn't a like Joel Osteen that said, "You must believe in you! Have your best life now!" He wasn't a religious revolutionary that wanted to get people motivated to try harder, do better, and do more good. No! He says, " I did not come to do religious deeds and good works. God doesn't want them. He takes no pleasure in them."
Sadly, Jesus' teaching was largely ignored in His day, and continues to be ignored today. Many people today live and try to prove that they are good, using nice words, doing nice things, and being respectable, kind people who always try to do the right thing. Many people imagine that good intentions will be enough to get them to heaven, and that by trying hard to be good people, they are following the way of Jesus. And many people are wrong. We will speak a little about this later. But for now, we see from Jesus' own lips that He did not come into the world to do religious good deeds.
But if not for that, why did He come?
II. Christ came into the world to die for sin (5c, 7)
1. The Historical Context
Back in Hebrews 10, Jesus says, "A body you have prepared for Me…Then I said, "Behold, I have come… to do Your will, O God."" Now, on the surface, this might not seem like Jesus is saying, "I have come into the world to die for sin," but the context makes this quite clear.
The words "sacrifice" and "offering" (verse 5) and "burnt offerings" (verse 6) are all words taken from the Old Testament religious system. It referred to sacrifices of animals, spilling of animal blood, the ending of animal life, for the forgiveness of sins. It was the price that must be paid for violating God's perfect Law. It taught the Israelites that sin deserves a gruesome, terrible punishment — death.
But this sacrificial system was never intended to bring final forgiveness of sins; Hebrews 10:4 says, "For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins." Rather, this system was intended to point to the final sacrifice, the once-for-all sacrifice, that would truly take away the punishment for sin. This final sacrifice wouldn't be an animal. It would be Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2. The True Nature of Christ
In order to see the magnitude of this statement, we have to back up just a bit and ask, "Who is Jesus Christ?" When Christ comes into the world, He says, "God, you do not desire animal sacrifices. You take no pleasure in them. But a body You have prepared for Me. Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God."
Now all of this "coming into the world language" and "preparing a body" language is very strange. We say that babies were born into the world. They don't "come in." Their existence began in the world! Also, babies don't have bodies "prepared for them." They are born with their bodies. To have a baby separate from their body is inconceivable. [Get the pun?]
The strange language means this: Jesus was not an ordinary baby. Jesus is God. Who is Jesus Christ? Jesus is God. As John 1 says, "In the beginning was the Word [that is Christ], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." And as God, Jesus existed from forever, has always existed, and as God had no physical form. Yet, at a specific point in time, He entered history as a baby child, which we call the incarnation — in flesh. John 1:14 says, "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father…" (See also Philippians 2:5-8).
Now, this does not mean that God stopped being God and become only a man. And it does not mean that God put on a costume to only look like a man. Instead, this is God the Son adding to His divinity humanity, an inseparable union [hypostatic union] between the nature of God and the nature of man. It is the miracle of Christmas: God the Son became the GodMan — fully God and fully man.
3. The Reason for the Incarnation — Death
But even as we use this language, we must step back again and ask, "Why?" Why would the Creator and Maker of the universe (Colossians 1:16-17) stoop down to be part of humanity? Why would He leave the glories of heaven to be born as a child in a barn (Luke 2:7)? Why would He temporarily lay aside His divine authority and take up the form of a slave (Philippians 2:7)? Why would He leave the place where He was worshipped by the angels (Hebrews 1:6) to come to the place where He would be spit on, mocked, beaten, ridiculed, scorned, and crucified (John 18-19)?
When Christ came into the world He says, "I did not come to make sacrifices for sin. I came to take on a body, to do God's will. I came to be the sacrifice." Jesus came to be the sacrifice for sin. The once-for-all sacrifice, the sacrifice that all of the animal sacrifices pointed to. Why did He come into the world? Why did He take on a human body? Why do we celebrate Christmas? Because Jesus came to die as the sacrifice for sin.
By His death, He would do what no animal could ever do — He would pay the punishment that sin deserves. As the sacrifice for sin, in His death, on that cross, He bore the full weight of the wrath of God against sin. He took in His body the whip, nails, and cross as punishment for sin. He took in His soul the separation, agony, destruction as punishment for sin. Not for His own sin, for He had none (Hebrews 7:27), but for the sins of the world (John 1:29; 1 John 2:2). God transferred to His account all of the guilt and shame and wrath that the sins of the world deserves and suffered in their place on their behalf, accomplishing forgiveness for any one would believe on Him.
And why is this possible? Because He had a body. Because He became man. Because He came into the world. Here then, we see quite clearly, that Christmas is not about the birth of Christ only. Christmas, the celebration of Jesus coming into the world, is the celebration that Jesus Christ came into the world as the GodMan to die, to be the sacrifice, for sin.
Again I say, why did Christ become a man? To die for sin. Why do we celebrate Christmas? Because Christ came to die for sin.
As the second verse of old Christmas song "What Child is This?" (a verse seldom sung by the musical artists of our day!) so wonderfully says:
Why lies He in such mean estate Where ox and ass are feeding? Good Christians, fear for sinners here The silent Word is pleading Nails, spear, shall pierce Him through The cross be borne for me, for you, Hail, hail the Word made flesh The Babe, the Son of Mary
III. Christmas is about the gospel of Jesus Christ
So then, we have answered our question, "Why does Christmas exist? What do we celebrate at Christmas? We celebrate that Jesus Christ, God the Son, came into the world as a man, so that He could die for sin.
This message, this true story, is the gospel. And in this gospel, we find salvation from sin. What you must understand is that God hates sin, and that He will punish sin. We have all sinned, have all declared open war against the God of heaven, rebelling against His goodness and authority. All of us are guilty criminals in God's sight and worthy of the punishment. And as self-proclaimed enemies of God, no amount of good deeds can get us on His good side. But God! being rich in mercy and abundant in love gave us Christ, sending Him into the world to die in our place for our sin.
Christianity is very simple. If you trust that Jesus was punished for your sin, and love Him as your Savior and Master, you are forgiven, pardoned, beloved, and saved. If you do not trust that Jesus died for your sin, you remain guilty of your sin, and you will receive what you deserve — eternal death. There are only two sides. There are no alternatives.
Oh come to Him! Your good works cannot save you. Your religious deeds done to win God's love and favor will not work! In Jesus Christ, God demonstrates His love and mercy. You can not earn His love but He freely extends it in the gospel! Do you not see the sacrifice that Christ underwent for you? He is the Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep (John 10:11).
Oh He loves you! Do not reject the greatest Gift that has even been given. When we have Jesus, believe in Him and love Him, we have everything — true life, everlasting joy, unshakable hope, confident faith, undying love, divine comfort. Those who are in Jesus Christ, who have believed in His life, death, and resurrection, have all that we need and want in Him. Those who are apart from Jesus have nothing but guilt, shame, punishment, and wrath.
This is the great purpose of Christmas — to point to Jesus Christ as the only Savior of the world. By His death, He has made the only way we can be forgiven of our sin and brought back to God. Believe in Him!