December 26, 2010Hebrews 2:10-18
The Scottish preacher James S. Stewart said, "God could not get to us until God got with us." This is the heart of the Christian message and the center of our text for this Christmas season.
God no longer was going to use prophets or priests, kings or queens, Levitical laws or rabbinical rituals. On Christmas Day, we mark the occasion when God came down to get the job done Himself. There would be no more animal sacrifices; Jesus became the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Humanity no longer would have to bear the weight of its sin or the knowledge of not being able to atone for that sin because sin is a part of its nature.
Christmas is a reminder that Amos could not preach away our sin. Abraham could not sacrifice away our sin. Jeremiah could not weep away our sin. Moses could not legislate away our sin. Miriam could not sing away our sin. Daniel could not pray away our sin.
Our salvation finally was secured when God took on human form, entered into the trials and temptations of human existence and as a human being paid the penalty for our sin. This is the biblical message, and in the face of the commercialized Christmas that bombards us from every side, we would do well to remember what this observance is really about.
The central theme of Christmas is not "Santa Claus is coming to town." The central theme of Christmas is the incarnation of God in the earthly Person of Jesus of Nazareth. Philippians 2:7-8
reminds us Jesus "took on the form of a servant and the likeness of men… humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross." Hebrews 2:10-18
reminds us of why the incarnation took place. God did not enter into human existence just to see what our lives were like. God knew perfectly well what our lives were like: wretched, self-centered or as Thomas Hobbes described it, "Solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short."
The only way out was what we now refer to as substitutionary atonement or vicarious suffering. Some other person voluntarily would have to pay the penalty for our sin. Just as Sydney Carton, who willingly died in place of Charles Darnay in A Tale of Two Cities
by Charles Dickens, Jesus was the substitute who suffered and died in our place.
For that process to be valid, the substitute had to be human in every respect. God could not perform this feat from heaven. Atonement could not take place inside the pearly gates or along the golden streets of eternity. The penalty for sin had to be paid in full on earth by someone who would feel every sting of the lash and every pounding of the hammer that drove the nails through human flesh and into a rugged cross.
Jesus was the substitute who died for the sin of the world. Hebrews insists Jesus was fully God and became fully human and that while in that fully human state atoned for our sins. "For because He Himself has suffered and been tempted, He is able to help those who are tempted" (Hebrews 2:18
). Of course, in order to be the atonement for our sins, the substitute had to have been untainted by sin. Jesus was uniquely qualified to be the Lamb of God because He was "tempted as we are, yet was without sin" (Hebrews 4:15
It took Christians a long time to understand this idea. The Nicene Creed of 325 A.D. finally established the Christian doctrine that Jesus was "of one substance with the Father" (homoousion
As a result, we now understand that Christmas is less about when, where or how Jesus was born. Christmas seeks to answer the question of who and why. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:18
). As James Stewart suggested, God got to us when He finally got with us.