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We all know there’s a lot going on in the Christmas story. And we’ve heard it all before, right? Well maybe. True, there is something for everybody in the Christmas story. But the deeper you go, the better it gets. You can play in the shallow water and have a lot of fun. You can also put the scuba gear on and do a deeper dive. Warning though: Deep dives require a trustworthy air supply. You’ll need full tanks for this one. All set? Onward. Let’s review a few deeper truths that Christmas needs… to be fully Christmas.
For He Shall Save. . .
“You shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). That’s what the angel told Joseph. “Jesus” means “Yahweh saves.” The secular Roman world at the time was indeed weary and very much in need of salvation, no doubt. But the salvation Jesus came to accomplish was not first political or sociological or economic. Jesus came to save sinners from their sins which includes not only sin’s power, but sin’s penalty. This was a mission only God could accomplish, of course. But it was also a comprehensive mission that could afford no shortcuts. To understand why this is so, we need to learn more about who God really is. So first…
God Is One
There is only one God, and He is simple in His essence (Deut. 6:4). This means He isn’t made of parts and pieces. Nope, He isn’t “partly this and partly that.” For example, He isn’t mostly love with a smidgen of justice thrown in. He is Love. He is also Justice. We, from our finite perspective, often distinguish between or among God’s attributes as we see Him act in our history. That is, sometimes we see His mercy with more clarity than at other times. At other times, His wrath gets real clear to us and so on. As humans, our perspective is always limited in scope.
This much is true: in all of God’s divine acts, we find ”triune” harmony, congruity and consistency. Everything God does is full of love, justice and wisdom, for example. But more than that, the Father and Son don’t “go their own way” as Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks would have them do. Otherwise, God would in fact be more like the famed rock-and-roll band… a bit schizophrenic, never satisfied and there would be constant conflict… inside the band.
Or, what if God was forever trying to “find himself.” This God would be constantly evolving, changing from this to that… as He becomes aware of His limitations and failures. That’s the “Plan B” God. But Scripture tells of a God who is infinite in His perfections, immutable, and wholly self-conscious. He “is light and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). This means within the Trinity you won’t find variation, incongruity or “Platonic” shadows whatsoever (Jas. 1:17) as form and substance match up quite nicely. That’s an important thing if you think about it a while. Now secondly…
God Is Triune
Though God is one, God is also Three. Not three parts of a whole, or three members of a band or club, but three inter-related Persons sharing the same essence. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. These Three are distinct in that they bear specific relationships to one another: The Father begets the Son and breathes forth the Spirit to the Son (John 3:16; 15:26).
The Son is begotten of the Father and breathes forth the Spirit to the Father (Gal. 4:6). The Spirit is the divine Breath, the eternal Love, who eternally proceeds from the Father to the Son, and from the Son to the Father. And so the Father loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father (John 14:31; 17:24). Each makes promises to the other that the Holy Spirit brings to fruition (Titus 1:2).
Despite these real distinctions among the three Persons, Jesus tells us He is “in” the Father and that the Father is “in” Him (John 14:10-11, 20; 17:21). This means on some level, at least, that we never encounter one Person of the Trinity in isolation from the other two. We can’t meet the Father without meeting the Son. We can’t meet the Son without meeting the Father. In the Trinity, distinction never means separation. Even as Jesus goes to the cross, He says, “I am not alone, because the Father is with me” (John 16:32). Here is perfect communion, perfect unity and perfect love.
But we also fail to see Christmas properly if the doctrine of justice is missing. So we must consider the fact that…
God Is Just
Some background: God knows His own perfections. Even more, the Father delights in the Son (Matt. 3:17), and the Son rejoices before the Father (Prov. 8:30). The Holy Spirit glorifies the Son (John 6:13-14); the Son glorifies the Father; the Father glorifies the Son (John 17:1-5). After all, we read the “chief end” of God is to glorify Himself and to enjoy Himself forever (Isa. 6:3; Hab. 2:14).
Now here’s a thought. What if one of God’s creatures rages against this glory? What happens if a creature lashes out against God’s perfections? What happens when each Person of the Trinity sees the others offended? Well, God who is love and holiness, but also justice… responds. In fact, He responds in wrath. Scripture bears eloquent witness to this. Hundreds and hundreds of examples. Here are three:
“For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee. The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity” (Ps. 5:4-5).
“God is jealous, and the LORD revengeth; the LORD revengeth and is furious; the LORD will take vengeance on his adversaries, and he reserveth wrath for his enemies. The LORD is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked: the LORD hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet. He rebuketh the sea, and maketh it dry, and drieth up all the rivers: Bashan languisheth, and Carmel, and the flower of Lebanon languisheth. The mountains quake at him, and the hills melt, and the earth is burned at his presence, yea, the world, and all that dwell therein. Who can stand before his indignation? And who can abide in the fierceness of his anger? His fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by him” (Nah. 1:2-6).
“And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name” (Rev. 14:11).
Ouch. Hell is real. Hell is eternal. According to God then, hell is the holy and just punishment due all those who hate and rebel against Him and His law. The good news of Christmas is that…
God Is Love
Yep, even though God is just… God is love. Boy, that is good news! He is infinitely wise and infinitely creative in expression too. Most importantly, representation and “image bearing” seem to be keys to His expression. So God, who is Triune, exists and presents Himself to us in terms of representation. Big take-away alert. The Son is the image of the Father (Col. 1:15) and the eternal Word spoken by the Father (John 1:1). The Son always does the Father’s will, and the Father is infinitely pleased with Him (John 8:29). Remember, the Father is in the Son, and the Son in the Father.
What we see here is infinite harmony. God, in His wisdom found a way for divine love and justice to join hands without a smirk. No classical dialectic. No abstract opposites either. Instead, a divine “way out” for sinners. The reasoning? Any justice that requires the death of the sinner, simultaneously recognizes the validity of covenantal representation. A proper substitute, a Kinsman-Redeemer, for example, can lawfully take the place of another. And so, under the proper terms, God could punish another, a representative, for our sins.
But the dilemma in human terms is this: Man’s offense against God is infinite. Which means any substitute would also have to bear “infinite wrath” to save even one sinner, let alone to save some great multitude.
So what are the options? Well first, the Trinity can’t die, so we should probably throw that one out. And second, since no mere creature can bear God’s eternal, infinite wrath either…
Who then could be man’s Savior? Well, as you know, that’s the Christmas story.
The Elegant Reality of Christmas Story
God’s solution was profound and elegant. God became man so He could be man’s Savior. In the womb of the virgin Mary, the eternal Son of God became human. He took to Himself a true human nature without giving up in any measure His divinity. A real big deal. The virgin’s baby was God in the flesh (John 1:14). And so the angels called Him “the Savior, Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
In Jesus, God became our legal “law abiding” substitute. As a true man, He obeyed the law that we had broken and bore the punishment that we deserve. Jesus died for sinners, the Just for the unjust, so He could lawfully deliver His people to God (1 Pet. 3:18). He bore our sins on the cross (1 Pet. 2:24). He was made a substitute “sin offering” (Isa. 53:10) and so accomplished reconciliation between God and man (2 Cor. 5:18-21).
In other words, God bore His own wrath against sinners. The Son freely gave Himself as a sacrifice for sin. Interestingly, this made him a Hero in the Hebrew sense, not in the Greek “victim of circumstance” sense… because he paid an actual price. He gave His life to save His people (Eph. 5:25). After that, He rose from the dead. He overcame death so all of God’s wrath was satisfied. He was delivered for our offenses and raised again for our justification (Rom. 4:25). He then ascended into heaven and sat down on the right hand of God as our Advocate, our Propitiation, and the Lord of heaven and earth (1 Jn. 2:1-2; Eph. 1:19-23).
Good News of Great Joy
Here is the Christmas message in full color. Something joyful and profound for everyone here. What Augustine said of scripture… is most certainly true of Christmas… shallow enough for kids to play in… but deep and profound enough to blow an angel’s mind, let alone a mortal’s.
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners and we’re all sinners. But please understand that the eternal Son of God died to satisfy the lawful claims of God’s wrath. We simply can’t miss that. He rose from the dead in history… in real time and space and is alive today offering forgiveness to all who will trust Him. This has big implications for all of life and should be cause for great rejoicing.