Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Trustworthy Saying for Christmas

By Todd Braye

The best of men are men at best, and included amongst all sinners. The category is not reserved for terrorists, drunks, homosexuals, liars, rapists, child abusers, or even big city mayors. Christ, the sinless one, came to save all kinds of sinners, not just the obvious rebels.

“Christmas is for kids.” I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that in my forty-seven years. Whether school plays, church Christmas concerts, or family gatherings, many December festivities focus on our children. And, of course, who doesn’t spend much energy and hard-earned money on their children (and grandchildren) during ‘The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?’ Marketing strategy banks on the growing expectations of our wee ones. Television specials often target children; as I write I soon expect a deluge of old favourites such as ‘Rudolph’ and ‘Frosty.’ Even the modern day Santa with his flying reindeer and incredible – if not impossible – capacity to deliver to every household in every part of the world every toy ever requested by every boy and girl serves to cater to the fascination, imagination and delight of every child.

Biblically, there are several issues which could be addressed in response to these things. But I limit myself to just one. The statement made by so many – even inside the ranks of the professing church  – that ‘Christmas is for kids’ is terribly misguided. As defined and celebrated by the church, Christmas is not for children per se, but for sinners. After all, though not a biblically instituted observance, it historically has been the annual holiday marking the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And it must be said: the intense focus on kids ironically, if not tragically, eclipses the glory of the incarnation with a shroud of child worship. Nevertheless, the spotlight shines on one particular, special Child! The Apostle Paul writes:

“It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all” (1Timothy 1:15).

This ‘trustworthy statement’ demands that we note two things.

First, it beckons that we consider the person of Jesus Christ. Space limits what I can say here. However, consider at least this much: Christ Jesus came into the world. He who is the sovereign ruler of the universe became a humble servant. He who is eternal and transcends time entered into and became subject to time. The One through whom and by whom all things were made took the form of that which was made. Vacating the incomprehensible glory of His heavenly and holy throne, exchanging it for an earthly and common feeding trough, Christ, God of very God, took on humanity. By leaving His home, he left majesty for misery, and the dwelling place of righteousness for a world of wickedness. This is how God loved the world: He sent His Son into the world.

Second, this “trustworthy statement” commands that we reflect on the mission of Jesus Christ. He came into the world “to save sinners.” In understanding just who these sinners are, it is intensely instructive for us to consider that Paul, the human writer of these words, considered himself to be “foremost of all.” How could this be? Is it not true that Paul was the human author of thirteen New Testament books, an apostle of Christ Jesus according to the will of God (1 Cor. 1:1) and blameless according to that righteousness which is in the Law of Moses (Phil. 3:6)? Is it not true therefore that the Apostle Paul was “a good person?” How could it be that he numbered himself among sinners, even as the “foremost of all?”

When the great apostle penned these words, he was near death.

Doubtlessly, he was a very godly man.  His unflinching devotion to Christ at great, personal cost oozes from the pages of the New Testament. However – let the reader get this – as a blameless, extremely moral and devout Jew, zealous for the Law of Moses and his ancestral traditions, Paul, as the best of the very best of men, formerly blasphemed the name of Christ and persecuted those who loved Christ. Before God lavished His grace upon Paul in conversion, Paul (Saul) “was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison” (Acts 8:3).  Paul knew the depths of his sinfulness. His former opposition to Christ and His church, which he once considered a zealous service for God, was now exceedingly sinful to him.

What is the upshot of this?

Simple. The religious and morally upright are not exempt from sin. The best of men are men at best, and included amongst all sinners. The category is not reserved for terrorists, drunks, homosexuals, liars, rapists, child abusers, or even big city mayors. Christ, the sinless one, came to save all kinds of sinners, not just the obvious rebels. As the Apostle wrote, “All have fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), even the perfect righteousness of Christ (italics added). Needless to say, therefore, is that Christmas is for all without distinction. Christ Jesus came into the world for all kinds of men, and women, and teens. And yes, He came for kids. As any honest parent knows, and admits, kids are sinners, too. At a very early age, we express our selfishness and depravity in a thousand ways; no one teaches us to throw temper tantrums, disobey our parents, or cry until we get what we crave. These are but manifestations of our inherited sin nature, the heart of the matter.

From what does Christ save sinners? He saves them from what He Himself endured. Crucifixion is not the main thing here. The excruciating pain of the nails was no doubt unbearable beyond description. But the mode of death is not the thing. What Christ endured for sinners is divine wrath. He became a curse for us, smitten of God (Isaiah 53:4). Thus, Christ saved a countless multitude not simply from sin and its punishment, but ultimately from God Himself (Romans 3:25; 2 Thessalonians 1:9). But He saved them from Him, however, that they be brought to Him (1 Peter 3:18). What an incredible, joyous salvation! Amazing gift is this, even God Himself! Why?

Out of the ivory palaces,
Into a world of woe,
Only His great eternal love
Made my Savior go.

Christmas can be a wonderful time of year. Our children love it. And with warm hearts, we vicariously enjoy it with them. But the holiday is not just for them. We understand that Christmas is for us. 

And we are convinced that the person and mission of Christ is not based upon any myth or cleverly devised tale, but upon historical reality [unlike the notion of some hefty guy in a red suit with a delivery service U.P.S. can only dream of]. This year, do not let any myth cloud your vision of the person and mission of Jesus Christ. “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance,  that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners …” (1Timothy 1:15). Trust Him!

1 comment:

DH said...

Terrific exhortation! Thanks so much, Doug.