Posted by: rcottrill | December 25, 2011

What Happened at Christmas?

Today is Christmas Day, the day we celebrate the birth of Christ. (Even though the actual date was more likely near the end of September, three months ago.) But whatever the real date, it’s good to have a time to recognize and rejoice in the incarnation of the Son of God, when God became a Man.

He couldn’t be our Saviour without that. It took a human being to die for the sins of human beings (Heb. 10:4). All those Old Testament animal sacrifices were only symbolic, pointing forward to the time when Christ, “the Lamb of God,” would come (cf. Jn. 1:29).

One of our greatest Christmas carols, Charles Wesley’s Hark, the Herald Angels Sing, says:

Christ, by highest heaven adored,
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come,
Offspring of the virgin’s womb.

Those lines are based on Galatians 4:4, which declares several important facts about the Saviour’s coming. Consider the simple but profound words:

“When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman.”

The time chosen by God the Father. The very best possible time for Christ to be born. What was it about the time (around 5 BC) that made it the right time? Let’s think about a couple of spiritual factors, and a couple of practical ones.

¤ First, there was a great spiritual and moral need. Society had deteriorated to the point that even pagans were alarmed. Strange religions were springing up everywhere, and Judiasm had become ritualist and dead for many of the Jews.

¤ About four centuries passed between the events of Malachi and Matthew–sometimes called the 400 Silent Years, when there was no prophetic word from God. There was a great and growing longing for God’s promised Deliverer among the believing remnant of Israel (people like Simeon and Anna, Lk. 2:25-38).

As to practical matters:

¤ During the time between the testaments, Alexander had conquered much of the civilized world, and the Greek language became a common bridge between many peoples. And during that same period, the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek. Thus people far and wide had the Word of God in a language they could understand.

¤ Second, the ascendancy of the Roman Empire brought a settled peace to the Mediterranean world. Also, the Romans were great road builders. They built a network of fine roads all over the empire.

Those last two things were important preparations for the spread of the gospel, a few years later. The fullness of the time had come. God’s very best time.

And that could be said of no other human baby, because no other baby existed before his or her conception in the womb. That’s where human life starts, for all except Christ.

Only the Son of God existed from all eternity. It’s the prophet Micah who tells us the One to be born in Bethlehem is a Ruler “whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting” (Mic. 5:2). And John says, in his first epistle, “the Father has sent the Son as the Saviour of the world” [I Jn. 4:14].

Before Jesus was conceived, He was sent from heaven. All of which points to the eternal existence of Christ, and to His Deity–that He is GOD made flesh (cf. Jn. 1:1, 14). He is God the Son, sent forth by the Father, to be our Saviour. But there’s another side to it, in Galatians 4:4.

#3. He was BORN [or MADE] OF A WOMAN
It was announced that the One who existed from all eternity was to be born of a young woman named Mary. And He couldn’t be conceived in the normal way, for a couple of reasons. First, He already existed, so He couldn’t begin His existence in the womb of Mary. And, if He could have been conceived in the normal way, He’d have experienced the corruption of sin passed down from Adam.

So it took the miracle of the virgin birth, by a work of the Holy Spirit, to deal with both those problems (Matt. 1:18-23; Lk. 1:26-35). By that means the eternal One, sent forth by the Father, was born of a woman, taking on our humanity. The big question is: Why did He do that?

As infinitely powerful as God is, there are certain things He can’t do. For one thing, God can’t lie (Tit. 1:2), or go back on His Word. The Bible says the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23), and God can’t go back on that. And His Word says that all of us have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).

Our only hope was for a substitute to take sin’s punishment in our place. But none of us could take that role and be a Saviour dying for others, because each of us deserves to die for his own sins. But Christ, the utterly sinless One, became Man in order to die for us, and pay our debt of sin.

“When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman.” That’s why we have a Christmas. It’s what we celebrate on this day–the coming of our Saviour!


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