This is the second in a series of posts which summarize the main points of the Advent 2012 sermon series “Christmas Questions” I delivered at Bethel. This sermon/post was based on Hebrews 2:14-18 (ESV):
“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”
As part of a public relations move this past summer, McDonalds Canada created an online forum where people could ask them any questions they wanted about their products. They have fielded hundreds of questions about their ingredients, methods, and products. True to their word, they’ve answered them, whether they have been difficult and probing or simple and basic.
What questions have you always wanted to ask about the oh-so-familiar Christmas story? What aspects are odd or unexpected? That’s what I want to explore. Why a virgin? Why Bethlehem? Why shepherds? Why a manger? (I’ll get to those later.)
Today: Why a baby?
This may not seem like a traditional Advent text, but it is especially significant because of what comes before it. The letter begins by calling Jesus Christ the “radiance of the glory of God”, the one through whom God created the world and the one who “upholds the universe by the word of his power.”
This is the one who was made like us in every way? Why? Why couldn’t super-Jesus just have descended from heaven, white robes flowing, and with legions of angels behind him? Why did God do it this way?
1. The Savior came as a baby to share fully in our humanity.
Jesus, the eternal Son of God, really and truly shared in our humanity. It wasn’t just a game of cosmic make-believe. He experienced all the weakness and frailty of life.
As a newborn—totally dependent upon his parents for food and shelter and protection. He would have had to have been fed and changed and calmed down and given naps.
Growing up—Scripture doesn’t say much about this except for Luke’s passing comment that he was obedient to his parents, and “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men”. But it teaches that he had several younger half-brother and sisters, and seems to indicate that Joseph died before Jesus began his public ministry at the age of 30. That means there is a strong possibility that he, as the firstborn, would have been responsible for taking care of his widowed mother and younger siblings.
Scripture records things that may sound trivial, but show us his true humanity. The Gospels talk about times he was tired, hungry, thirsty, joyful, amazed, angry, and when he wept at the death of his friend Lazarus.
He is Immanuel–God-with-us– who knows what life is really like. This is why Calvin said, “…we find in the Son of God a brother…”
Think about this for a moment. Jesus, whom Scripture describes as “the image of the invisible God…in whom all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” , knows what it’s like to experience life the way we do.
On the TV show Lost, one of the main characters had a mysterious tattoo that you eventually find out says, “He walks among us, but he is not one of us”. This is not true of Jesus Christ.
He knows what it’s like to put in a hard day’s work, to get a good night’s sleep, to go to a wedding reception or a funeral, to enjoy a well-prepared meal, to go hungry, to be surrounded by friends, to be lonely and rejected, to be abandoned, to mourn, to rejoice, to be praised, to be ridiculed…to live.
Why did the Savior come as a baby? To share fully in our humanity. But also to do something in and with that humanity that we could never do ourselves.
2. The Savior came as a baby to fulfill all righteousness.
God’s moral and covenantal Law—that is binding upon all people in all places at all times—reveals his standards of righteousness and demands a life of perfect obedience. God is holy and perfect, and requires a life of holiness from his people: “Be holy, as I am holy”. He promises abundant blessings to the one who can fulfill the righteous requirements of his moral law, yet warns of severe consequences for those who sin.
That’s us—me and you and everyone you know. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). We are born into sin, and we willingly add to it daily through our thoughts, desires, actions, and very disposition. God calls for us to be holy, but we aren’t and we can’t. Enter Jesus Christ, the one who does for us what we could not do for ourselves.
Jesus Christ was like us in every way, yet without sin (4:15: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.”) Because he is sinless, he could do what we could not.
Paul puts it like this: “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.” (Gal 4:4-5)
Because Jesus Christ was born of a woman and was fully human, he was born “under law”, meaning that he was called to live a perfect life. (Like you and I are called to do, but can’t because of our sin.) But because Jesus Christ was fully God, he was unstained by sin and able to live the perfect life that the Law requires. This is what we call his “active obedience”, i.e. his perfect righteousness in the face of temptation.
“…he himself suffered when he was tempted…”, suffered, but did not sin. When we are tempted, we cave. Maybe not all of the time, but most of the time. (OK, all of the time…) We indulge in those hurtful, prideful, lustful, or deceptive thoughts. We speak and act falsely. We hate and covet. We ridicule and reject God and give our allegiance to lesser things.
When Jesus was tempted, he obeyed. Specifically, we can think of his temptation in the wilderness, when he, unlike Adam, did not give in to the temptations of Satan. Or we can think of his temptation in the garden, when he could have rejected the way of the cross and turned his back on you and me. But he didn’t He obeyed. Each and every time. He lived a life of perfect righteousness that glorified God—and he did it for us in our place!
Jesus is not just a model of good living that we can copy if we try hard enough. We are called to follow his example, but as a way to honor God and not as an attempt to secure our own holiness apart from Christ. He is our righteousness because he lived a real and perfect life, earning all of the blessings of God for us—and he could not have done that unless he lived.
Why did the Savior come as a baby? To share fully in our humanity. To live the perfect life from start to finish that we never could. But that life had a particular purpose and goal from the very beginning.
3. The Savior came as a baby in order to die so that he could conquer death and atone for the sins of his people.
He “shared in our humanity”—why? As a divine experiment? Because he just wanted to see what it was like? No. The second half of v. 14 is a dependent purpose clauses, it explains why.
He came to die. This was the purpose of the Savior’s coming and was always a part of the preaching and teaching of the early church.
He had to be human in order to die; he had to be God in order for that death to mean something. Why a baby? So that the Son of God could be capable of dying. Why did he have to die? To fulfill the sanctions of the divine Law.
Because God is holy, his people must be holy. Jesus Christ fulfilled that holiness for us, in our place, and gives us the blessings that he earned. This is his active obedience.
His passive obedience was his willingness to undergo the penalty that we deserve for our sin. He removed our guilt, our shame, and our rebellion (v. 17b). He could not have died unless he was first capable of dying—thus his birth. However, because he was God in the flesh, and he rose again from the dead, his death forever disarmed the power of death and triumphed over the long, dark shadow of the grave.
When you have little kids, you often have to do something first to show them that they can do it too. You jump in the pool first to show them the water is fine. You go upstairs first to show them there are no monsters. You eat the first bite of the mystery casserole at the family reunion to show them it’s safe. Jesus, in a way, says to us, “It’s ok. Death doesn’t have any power over you anymore. Watch, I’ll go first and show you.” His resurrection is the proof of this, and the promise of what we will one day have.
Matthew Henry once wrote: “That he might deliver his own people from the slavish fear of death to which they are often subject, Christ became man, and died, to deliver them from perplexities of soul, by letting them know that death is not only a conquered enemy, but a reconciled friend. Death is not now in the hand of Satan, but in the hand of Christ.”
Jesus can provide mercy and grace because he has destroyed death and liberated those who had been enslaved by their fear of death. He is the true and faithful high priest who helps “Abraham’s descendants” (i.e. those who have faith in the promises of God).
Because he has destroyed the power of death, “He is able to help those who are being tempted…” This is the crowning purpose of all that has come before. He was born so that he could die. He died so that he could be raised again from the dead. He was raised again from the dead so that he could provide help and give life to those who are in desperate need of those things and don’t know where to find them.
When you know that someone else has experienced the same thing you have experienced, then you know that they can understand why you feel troubled, why you feel burdened, why you rejoice or why you mourn.
We have a sympathetic Savior. The word literally means “suffer together with”. You can only sympathize with someone if you’ve experienced the same thing they have. Why a baby? To assure us that we have a sympathetic Savior.
William Barclay puts it like this: “…because He sympathises Jesus can really help. He knows our need; He has met our sorrows; He has faced our temptations. And because of that He knows exactly what help we need and He can give it.”