“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Love is one of the most important themes in all of the Bible. It is one of the most sought after things in life as well. Millions of songs have been written about love. Millions more books have been written on the subject, some decent to read, others indecent. Despite the wealth of information and ideas about love that are in the world, everyone has a different idea about what it is and what it should be.
It is no wonder that we misunderstand and misinterpret God’s love then. Many times we believe that God is required to do something in order to prove His love to us. “If God really loved me, He’d help me with the problem.” “If God was really there and loved us, He would have prevented this disaster.” We even hear people proclaim that a loving God couldn’t possibly send people to hell because that would go against His nature – as if anyone has the right to tell God what is and isn’t in His nature.
Love is Christmas. If God only demonstrated His love for the world by sending His Son to earth as a baby who would die on the cross, it would be more than enough. Christmas is an act of love that is greater than any other that the world has experienced because humanity is incapable of such perfect love.
Christmas was the first step in an act of love that would end at the cross. Jesus first had to come into the world as a baby and go through His first steps in order to take His last steps up upon Calvary. Jesus explained this act of love in John 15:3, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
Christmas set in motion the events that would lead to the cross and the culmination of God’s love for man. Let’s go to Romans 5 once again for Paul’s explanation of God’s love.
6You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
At just the right time, Jesus came into the world. For the Jews who had been awaiting the coming of the Messiah it may have seemed as if God had waited a long time but this was not the case. God does not work according to our timetable but His. The Israelites were in Egypt for 400 before God rescued them. They were slaves in Babylon for 70 years before God freed them. They had even ceased as a nation for almost 1900 years before the Lord restored them in 1948. When Jesus was born, there had been no prophets for 400 years but God had not forgotten them. Jesus arrived just on time and He will return at just the right time as well.
Even more important than the timing of Jesus’ birth is the state of man when Jesus was born. We were powerless and we were sinners. Jesus confronts the Pharisees so often because they are self righteous. They believe that they have no need for a savior. And it is because of this that they will not accept Jesus as savior. Jesus tells a parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector in Luke 18:9-14.
9To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10″Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13″But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14″I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Jesus came for sinners, not those who are self righteous. You don’t come to church because you are righteous. “Good” people should not be drawn to church because they feel no need for redemption and they are convinced that they are good enough on their own. It is people who acknowledge that they are sinners who feel the need for church and feel the need to repent.
The tax collector who came to the temple was not just like an IRS worker, he was a thief. Tax collector was a very affluent position in the ancient world because they were able to collect basically whatever they wanted from people and could keep whatever was above and beyond the amount that was actually owed to the government. The people had no choice but to pay the taxes and had not right to appeal what they were being charged because the government was well aware that this corruption was taking place but did nothing to stop it.
Paul was very self righteous and had to be humbled before he would ever be of any use to God. He was very zealous and did what he believed was right but this meant nothing without recognition of his sin and his need for a savior. Paul writes about this to Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:16, “But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.”
All of this goes back to God’s love. Jesus came to earth to die for sinners. We’re all in the same boat, we’re all sinners. Only those who recognize that they are sinners and that they need forgiveness of their sins are going to accept Christ’s sacrifice however.
Some believe that Christianity is for those who are weak. They believe that it is a crutch for those who can’t make it on their own and have to invent some sort of supernatural power to help them with their problems.
God is there for our help with the problem of sin. God’s gift of Jesus is the only solution to the problem of sin. No other rituals, self sacrifice, or good deeds deal with the problem of sin. Jesus is the only solution and that’s why He had to come into the world.
As for the notion that Christianity is for the weak, tell that to those who are being killed for their faith in other countries. Tell it to those who must meet in secret because being a Christian means imprisonment if they’re lucky and severe beatings by radical Muslims, Buddhists, or Hindus if they are not.
Romans 5 goes on to tell us exactly what happens with Christ’s life, beginning at Christmas.
Verses 12, 15-17
12Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned—
15But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.
Sin and death have reigned on earth since the time of the first sin, since Adam and Eve. Because of that sin we are born in sin. We have a sinful nature and are doomed to follow it. Look at even a baby. They look so innocent but very early on they know right from wrong. They will know that they are not to do something but will decide to do it anyway and they will have a big grin on their face while they are doing it because they think that they are getting away with something or are just delighting in doing what they want. Sin is ingrained in our very being and we can’t escape it from even the youngest age.
But because of God’s love, He gave us Jesus. Because of that gift, God’s grace is extended to all. Sin entered the world through Adam but redemption came through Jesus.
Christmas is love. There may be a lot of warm and fuzzy feelings that make us feel good about our friends and family or fellow man. But ultimately it comes down to God’s love. He sent His Son into the world at Christmas because of His love for us. Jesus would lay down His life because of His love for us. Our job is to spread that love to everyone that we encounter.