Pastoral Perspectives

From the Cradle to the Cross

God became man. God came in human flesh and dwelt among us. God descended the birth canal of a young woman named Mary. The infinite became a finite infant; the Creator sleeping in a cradle. It is mind blowing and many skeptics have laughed over such claims. Allow me to share with you a story of such a skeptic who eventually had an epiphany concerning the significance of Christmas. This story was first told by the late Paul Harvey who was an evangelical Christian radio broadcaster with the American Broadcasting Company Radio Networks.

The man was kind and decent. He loved his family; he dealt with his neighbours most considerately. He just didn’t believe all that Christmas stuff. It didn’t make sense to him – the Jesus story about the Son of God coming to earth as a man. It was Christmas Eve again. While his family went to church, he chose to stay behind because he didn’t want to be a hypocrite since he didn’t buy into the Christmas story to begin with. Shortly after the family drove away in the car, snow began to fall. He went to the window to watch the flurries getting heavier and heavier and then went back to his chair beside the fireplace and began to read his newspaper. Minutes later, he was startled by a thumping sound. Then another. And then another. At first, he thought someone must be throwing snowballs against his living room window. But when he went to the front door to investigate, he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the snow. They had been caught in the storm and in a desperate search for shelter, had tried to fly through his large living room window.

Well, he couldn’t let the poor creatures lie there and freeze. He remembered the barn where his children kept their pony. That would provide a warm shelter if he could direct the birds to it. Quickly, he put on a coat, tramped through the deepening snow to the barn. He opened the doors wide and turned on the lights. But the birds did not go in. He tried to entice them by sprinkling some bread crumbs on the snow to make a trail into the lighted barn. But to his dismay, the birds ignored the bread crumbs and continued to flop around helplessly in the snow. He tried catching them. He tried “shooing” them into the barn by waving his arms. Instead, they scattered in every direction.

Then he realised that they were afraid of him. To them, he was a strange and terrifying creature. If only he could let them know that they could trust him, that he was not trying to hurt them but to help them. But how? Any move he made would only frighten or confuse them. They just would not follow him.

“If only I could be a bird”, he thought to himself “and mingle with them and speak their language. Then I could tell them not to be afraid. Then I could show them the way to the safe warm barn.” At that moment, the church bells began to ring. The sound reached his ears above the sounds of the wind. The significance of Christmas dawned on him and he sank to his knees in the snow.

The Son of God became a man so that he could show us the way not to a warm lighted barn but the way back to God. He became one of us so that we could see and hear and understand him. If he were to come in his glory and majesty, we would be like the birds, too afraid or confused to even want to get close to him. He came as a human being to reveal to human beings how they could be reconciled with God. He came as a human being so that he could empathise with the sufferings of human beings. He walked our dirty streets, interacted with the worst of sinners in society, and ministered to the down and out in perfect love. He attended to the poor, the marginalised, the sick. He knew their pain, their rejection, the injustice they faced, the shame, the loneliness, and he experienced all of that as a human being. But more than that, he became one of us so that he could die in our place. That would take us from the cradle to the cross!

We are sinners and before a holy and just God, we stand guilty. We will never be able to escape God’s judgment. All have sinned and fallen short of God’s perfect standard (Romans 3.23), and the wages of sin is death (Romans 6.23), not just physical death but eternal death, spending eternity away from God’s presence in hell’s fire. That’s the judgment awaiting every sinner. God loves us too much to allow us to remain status quo. The day when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, and sin and pain came into the picture, God had already devised a salvation plan. The serpent which represented Satan would strike the heel of Eve’s offspring while Eve’s offspring would crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3.15). This was the prophecy concerning the coming of the Saviour, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, born of Mary and therefore qualified to be Eve’s offspring. The prophets of old like Isaiah continually foretold his coming. And in the fullness of time, on that first Christmas, he came. He was borne into a Jewish family thereby fulfilling the promise given to Abraham, the Father of the Jews, that ‘in him all the families of the earth shall be blessed’ (Genesis 12.3). And he was born in the line of King David, fulfilling the promise to David that ‘his throne shall be established forever’ (2 Samuel 7.16). All the jigsaw pieces concerning his coming fell into place!

God purposed for Jesus to enter into our world while the Roman Empire was in power and in those days, the method of execution was the cross, a very cruel and humiliating way to punish criminals. If he had come in another era, the method of punishment could very well be different. The Son of God died as a criminal by crucifixion but he wasn’t punished for his crimes. He had committed none. He was given an unjust sentence because Pilate the governor preferred to win popular votes rather than stand up for what was right. But it fitted God’s plan of salvation like a glove. Jesus was punished for the crimes of the whole world, a perfect human being bearing upon himself the full weight of the sins of the imperfect human race. He drank the cup of God’s wrath that was meant for us to drink. He died in our place. That was how God allowed Satan to strike Jesus’ heel. In doing so, God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5.21).

Jesus however did not remain dead. He could not remain dead. He is the Son of God. Remember he didn’t die for his sins for he had none? He died for our sins so God vindicated him by raising him on the third day. By raising him, God also showed that he accepted the sacrifice that Jesus had made on our behalf. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, the bondage and power of sin was therefore broken once and for all. That was how Jesus dealt a fatal blow to Satan, crushing the serpent’s head. In Jesus, our sins are forgiven. In Jesus, we are not only freed from the penalty of sin, we are also delivered from the power of sin, i.e. we can have victory over sinful addictions and habits. When Jesus comes again, and he has promised that he will, we will then be totally freed from the presence of sin. This is the good news that we all can embrace in Jesus.

Have a blessed Christmas!