The Reason For The Season
Most people are aware that Christmas has something to do with Christ, but even many Christians seem unsure of some important details about His purpose in coming to earth. What follows is an attempt to pinpoint and summarize the essential facts about Jesus’ first coming, in the hope that Christians will re-focus on the reason for being His followers, and the lost can see the gospel message more clearly.
1. To redeem us from sin
This is the most familiar aspect of Jesus’ purpose, but it never hurts to clarify such an important thing. What exactly does it mean to be saved from sin? Obviously, the world is still filled with sin and few claiming to follow Christ would dare to claim they never sin anymore. 1 John 2:1 says, “If anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father— Jesus Christ, the Righteous One”. But it also says that we believers will stand before God and give an account of all we ever did (Rom. 14:10, 2 Cor. 5:10). Are we held accountable for our sins or not?
Many believe that being saved means having “a license to sin”, because Jesus paid the full price for them. But then in addition to the passages mentioned above, we see the apostle Paul’s rebuttal to such an idea: “We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Rom. 6:2). Yet again, only eight verses later Paul says, “The death He died, He died to sin once for all...” We can reconcile these seemingly conflicting concepts by understanding that though a single drop of Jesus’ blood would have been enough to pay for all sin for all time, there is no sacrifice to cover sins that we refuse to give up (Heb. 10:26). As that whole chapter tells us, the purpose of the old Jewish sacrifices were not to pay for sin but to remind people of it, so they could turn from it and walk with God. In the New Covenant, we too must keep turning from our sins so we can walk closely with God. The sacrifice of Jesus reminds us of the price that was paid.
But what does it mean to be “redeemed”? When He confronted Adam, Eve, and the serpent, God promised redemption for mankind through “the seed of the woman”. Redemption from what or whom? To redeem is to buy back, to regain someone or something in exchange for payment, to make restitution, to save or rescue. This is the heart and soul of the gospel message. But there must be three parties to any such redemption: the captive, the buyer, and the seller. Who is the captive? Mankind. Who is the buyer? Jesus. But who is the seller?
The only third party mentioned in Genesis is the serpent. And while no connection is made between the serpent and Satan in Genesis, other passages do make it, and add that he is “the god of this age”, he is “the prince of the power of the air”, he has “taken them captive to do his will”, and he had the right to offer the cities of the world to Jesus during His temptation in the wilderness.
Could the third party be sin itself? No, sin is not a sentient being or entity. Some would cite various passages to say otherwise, but we have to remember that inanimate things can be personified as a figure of speech, as is often the case throughout scripture. So could it be this corrupt world and our own mortality, where the “seller” is like a pit we fell into and we simply need to be lifted out of it? Possibly, but only partially, since we have to consider that not only rescue is made, but also payment. There is just no other candidate fitting all the criteria for the “seller” but Satan. (Mt. 4:8–9, 2 Cor. 4:4, 11:3, Eph. 2:2, Rev. 12:9,14–15, 20:2)
Why was it that only God in human flesh could redeem us? Because only Jesus could represent both parties in the dispute: God and mankind. It really is that simple, and explains why no other Way to God is possible. This is not God being arbitrarily narrow but God being compassionate because only He could pay this price, though He was under no obligation. There truly was no other way. And in redeeming us, Jesus also canceled the legal document of debt that stood against us and displayed it publicly by nailing it where all could see; that is the sense of the Greek.
In so doing, Jesus paid every last penny of our alienation from God and our committed sins. So again, why are we still held accountable for sins? Why are we to be judged according to what we did in this life, if Jesus paid it all? And the answer is: because salvation is a gift and rewards are payments for earned wages. We could not begin to pay the price for our reconciliation to God, but we are individually responsible for our actions. Reconciliation must be voluntary, and that means God could only do His part; He could not force us to agree to it or it would not be genuine, and nothing less would be worthy of the honor of God. So when we agree to be reconciled, we are simply accepting a gift, not earning a wage, and the price for our freedom was paid to make that possible. Our actions, good or bad, are earning us spiritual wages, and that is the whole purpose of judgment for both the saved and the lost.
Think about it: what other reason could there be for judgment, since our entry into either heaven or hell is decided by faith alone? Our deeds cannot have anything to do with our eternal destination, or salvation would not be a gift at all. People will be sent one place or the other simply on the basis of whether or not their names are written in the book of life.
2. To free the Jews from the Law and enact the Promise
We Gentiles often forget that we were never under the Laws of Moses. As Paul said in Eph. 2:12, “Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.” Forgetting this fact has been the cause of many divisions in the Body of Christ, for there are those among us who, like the Judaizers of first century, would “try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear” (Acts 15:10). So the debates over what part of Jewish law Christians may be under are all a waste of time and a needless source of conflict.
For Jews who become Christians, the writer of Hebrews teaches in no uncertain terms that “with a change of priesthood comes a change of law” (Heb. 7:12), and that the old law was replaced by the new (Heb. 7:18). Since Jesus is the permanent High Priest of the new order of Melchizedek, then no part of the law attached to the priesthood of Levi can remain. Jesus reinforced this fact in His parable of the wineskins (Mat. 9:17, Mark 2:22, Luke 5:37).
As Paul explained in Gal. 3:24, the purpose of the old Law was never to be a permanent “religion” but to act as a custodian or mentor to guide Israel until it “came of age” so to speak. As that chapter explains further, we must not confuse the Law and the Promise; they are mutually exclusive and follow two different paths. The Law is concerned with the physical descendants of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob, while the Promise is concerned with those having the faith of Abraham. So are Jewish Christians still under the old Law?
3. To make a New Creation and a New Kingdom
No, in Christ both Jew and Gentile become a third, new entity: adopted children of God without distinction by ethnicity, class, or even gender (Gal. 3:26-28). The Jew in Christ cannot look down upon the Gentile, the free cannot look down upon the enslaved, and the man cannot look down upon the woman as somehow less close to God, less worthy of His blessings, or less an heir of the Promise to Abraham. The “middle wall” between each of these pairings has been torn down by the blood of Christ (Eph. 2:11-22).
Jesus’ immediate mission was first and only to the Jews (Mt. 15:24), to fulfill the law and the prophecies (Mt. 5:18); this is why He selected twelve Jewish males for His inner group of disciples instead of also some Gentiles or women or slaves. But after the Cross, those who follow Him are a “new creation” that is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female (Gal. 3:28). Many interpret this instead as being something like “a new person”, but the context of all this is about a change of position or legal standing with God, not individual transformation. Now it should go without saying that individuals do change; as we’ve already seen, we have “died to sin”. But our unity as the Body of Christ is not to be divided, for “you are all one”, and “each part belongs to all the others” (1 Cor. 12:12-27).
Jesus also said that the order of things in His kingdom is upside-down to that of the world (Mt. 20:20-28, Luke 22:24-28). When two of His disciples applied for top positions in that kingdom, Jesus told them that the “lording over” of the world is to be “not so among you”, and no amount of sugar-coating can make benevolent “lording over” the same as no “lording over”. Jesus said that we are all on the same level (Mt. 23:8), but that those who will be called greatest in His kingdom would be found not at the top in authority, but at the bottom serving all the others. Jesus’ example and teaching never came with fine print or loopholes to allow some to usurp authority over others or to redefine what “lording over” means, so to teach otherwise is to cause “division” in the Body of Christ (Rom. 16:17).
Jesus taught and modeled unity and humility (John 13:1-17, Phil. 2:5-11) for all of His followers, not just some, and not just in certain situations or relationships. This over-arching principle is not to be undone or overturned by imaginative interpretations of other parts of scripture, as if God contradicts Himself or Jesus only came to free a few prisoners or lift the burdens from a privileged class (Luke 4:18:19). This One who said “the first shall be last” (Mt. 19:30), and the apostle who said that God chose the lowly and despised things of this world to shame the high and wise (1 Cor. 1:26-31), were sending a radical message to us all: we are all one, and all equal before God and in His kingdom.
Sadly, our “churches” and even some of our marriages are modeled after the world’s ways. We still fight over “who is the greatest” and cling tightly to privilege. We wrestle for the first place in line as if we are selfish children, instead of humbly deferring to others and seeking their honor instead of our own. We are as fleshly and carnal as the people of Corinth in Paul’s day, following mere humans and celebrating popular sins. We want to bring heaven down to our level instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to lift us up, because we love this world too much. Are we citizens of the heavenly kingdom or not? Are we willing to lay it all down for Him or not?
Jesus came not to add a new verse to an old song, but to write a completely new song that only the redeemed can sing (Rev. 5:9). It is my sincere hope that we as Christians will re-examine our lives and ask ourselves why we do what we do, and whether we have taken our eyes off of Jesus and begun to sink into the waves of worldly pride, as Peter did after he began to walk toward Jesus on the stormy lake (Mt. 14:22-33). We need to remember that we are not a collection of random machine parts but vital organs in the Body of Christ, and citizens of a Kingdom that must not be divided. As you celebrate Christmas this year, consider all the reasons Jesus came, and be resolved to live as a true disciple of our Savior.