December 24 & 25, 2014
St. John 3:17
For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. John 3:17
It’s a wonderful story. It’s the story of Christ’s birth. God sends angels from heaven to appear to shepherds, but provides for Mary and Joseph no place in the inn. We find the baby Jesus lying in a manger. Later on, wise men from the East come to give him gifts. While it is fashionable these days for everyone to make up his own personal religion, it seems that everyone finds something to like in the biblical story of Jesus’ birth. Even people who do not confess the Christian religion find this story compelling. There is a reason why Christmas has become the most popular holiday in the world.
Today, let us take a look at the story behind the story. Instead of focusing on the specifics of Christ’s birth, let us talk about why he was born. Why Christmas?
It’s become a cliché to say that Jesus is the reason for the season. It also begs the question. Who is Jesus? And why is he the reason for the season? Why was he born? That’s the question! There is no more important question we could ask. How we answer spells the difference between life and death, light and darkness, hope and despair.
Who decides important questions? That’s an important question, too! In fact, if you don’t get this question right you’ll never get anything right. Who knows what questions to ask and what the right answers to these questions are? Well, if Christmas is the celebration of God sending his Son into this world, you would think that it would be God who could tell us why he did so. So we should ask God the question, “Why Christmas?”
Unfortunately, folks don’t always consult God. Instead, they consult the theological experts. It is ironic, when you think about it. Those who express the most disdain for theology and theologians most dutifully parrot the theological opinions that are in style among the theological elite. The opinion in fashion among the theological trend setters is that when it comes to theological questions, the world is to set the agenda for the church. The world must be met on its own terms. The church must prove its authenticity to the world.
People have their own felt needs – what they feel is missing in their lives and what they want to secure. Perhaps they are poor and feel disempowered by their social status. The church must work to empower them. Perhaps their families are dysfunctional and they feel life is one big chaotic conspiracy against them. The church must provide them with tools for successful living. Whatever their problem, the church must address it. We must prove to the world that we, the church, are here to address the questions they are asking. Only then will they listen to what we have to say.
Nonsense! The world doesn’t know what it needs. The world doesn’t set the agenda for the church. God sets his own agenda. He gives us the questions to ask and he provides the answers. The church is wrong to let people who don’t know God decide how God is going to help them in their needs. It’s our job to tell the world what God says they need and how God is going to meet their need. Listen to Jesus. He says: “For God did not sent his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.”
God sent his Son. He is not God’s Son in the same way that you and I are sons and daughters of God. In the verse preceding our text Jesus calls himself God’s “only begotten Son.” The term “only begotten” tells us that the Father and the Son are of the same substance. That’s why we confess in the Nicene Creed concerning the Son of God that he is: “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.”
St. John writes in the Prologue of his Gospel:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.
The Son of God is God. St. John calls him the Word. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The baby lying in the manger outside of an inn in Bethlehem of Judea is the God who created the world and all that is in it and governs this whole world with his almighty power. He is the God who led Caesar to take the census that would send Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem so that he could be born in David’s city according to the prophecy he inspired the prophet Micah to write hundreds of years earlier. Baby Jesus is almighty God. The Son of God is God.
Beware of the heretics who teach otherwise! The only begotten Son of God is God – equal to the Father who sent him into this world. He is inferior to the Father when it comes to his human nature. But with respect to his divine nature, he is equal to the Father.
Why would God send his Son into this world? Jesus tells us. He says “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.” This is an amazing assertion by Jesus. It is amazing especially when you consider who wrote it. No biblical writer speaks so frequently of the evil and anti-God nature of this world than John. St. John uses the word “world” more than twice as many times as the rest of the Gospel writers put together and it is usually to point out how the agenda, values, and beliefs of this world are antithetical to God and his word. The world and God are at odds. God sees this world as it really is, and what he sees is not good. It is not the very good world he saw after the sixth day of creation.
If you want to see how God and the world relate to each other, consider these words from Christ’s high-priestly prayer. Jesus prays to his Father for his church and says,
I have given them your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. (John 17:14)
And what does our Father in heaven do? How does he treat this world that hates him, hates his Son, hates his holy word, and hates his church? He loves them. He sends his Son into this world to save them. He loves those who hate him. He saves from certain destruction those who would destroy everything he loves.
Christmas is the story of God’s love. Jesus is God’s Son. God sent his Son into this world, not to condemn the world. He could in perfect justice have destroyed the whole world of sinners, you and me included. What did this world do with the love that has defined God’s nature from eternity? It tossed it aside as so much garbage. It replaced God and his love with its own cheap counterfeit, throwing away the true religion with its own religion of pleasing itself and elevating itself to the status of God! God saw his law twisted and mutilated so as to be used by sinners to justify their sins. God looked into every human heart, and measured the evil that lies hidden from human sight. God saw all of the betrayals, the filthiness, the lies, and the deceit. He saw what brought just condemnation upon this world. He saw what he hated and determined in his boundless love to send his Son into this world, not to condemn the world, but to save the world through his Son.
Note well the words: “but that the world, through him, might be saved.” If you are to be saved, that is, rescued or delivered, from the judgment and punishment you deserve, it can only happen through Christ. Faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior from sin is the only way to heaven. This is because only Christ was born, lived, and died without once falling short of the demands of love. “Of the Father’s love begotten, e’er the worlds began to be.” Now see this eternal love shared by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. See this love incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary. See this eternal divine love perfectly in his humanity. See Jesus live the life of love as our substitute so that we might receive the credit for it.
The world holds on to its pride, its riches, and its pleasures, but this Child chooses to be born in poverty. Why? For those who in their conceited self-righteousness presumed to try to work their way to heaven. And for those who in their selfish disdain for all that is holy presumed to discard religion altogether, as if the fear of God means nothing in this world. In short, it was for sinners that he came. It was to this sinful world that his Father gave him. He gave him so that this world might not be condemned, but be saved instead.
Look at how much God loves this undeserving world. He sets the agenda. The world would only deceive itself into eternal ruin, as religiously minded fools seek within their sinful hearts the goodwill necessary to solve the problems that beset them. The only solution to this world’s troubles is God’s goodwill. The goodwill of Christmas is proclaimed to the shepherds, lies in a manger, is nailed to a cross, rises from the dead, and is exalted at the right hand of the Father. He is full of grace and truth. He knows your sins – better than you do! How could he not? He suffered for them. He bore them in his body on the cross. He does not judge you or condemn you. He calls you to faith. He calls you to repent of all your sins, your sins of lovelessness, pride, selfishness, and hatred. He invites you to look to him and see your life.
Life is so much better when God sets the agenda. What do we know? We are the source of our own misery in life. The most precious knowledge we have is our faith in God’s Son who came into this world, not to condemn us, but to save us! This knowledge saves us from dying in our sins and raises us up to new life. He who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary is born in us by the power of the same Spirit. What a wonderful life it is to live under the grace of God!
Thou Christian heart, whoe’er thou art,
Be of good cheer and let no sorrow move thee!
For God’s own Child, in mercy mild, joins thee to him;
How greatly God must love thee! Amen