The Christmas Purpose
by Frank Page
What is Christmas? Dr. Robert G. Lee said, "Christmas is the joyous celebration of eternity's intersection with time." The apostle Paul said in Galatians 4:4: But when the completion of the time came, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law.
Why do people refuse what Christmas offers? I read of an incident which no doubt occurs regularly. A sorrowful wife stood just outside a psychiatric ward in a large hospital. Her husband, a patient in the hospital, was with her. He looked vacantly into space as she pleaded, "John, here's a Christmas present for you. Take it, John, and look at it." John made no move. Again the plea was made. "John, dear, all of us at home thought you would like your present so much. Look at it, John. Isn't it nice?" The loving, urging voice failed to reach John's mind. He was powerless to grasp the meaning of a Christmas gift.
Millions in the world today are like John. They refuse God's great gift of love — the Savior. There is this difference, however, between that mentally ill man and those who refuse God's gift: he didn't knowingly refuse the gift offered to him, but many people deliberately and knowingly refuse the gift of God — the Savior and eternal life. Millions knowingly refuse the gift of Christmas.
In Galatians 4:4-5 we read about the purpose of Christmas. How did this purpose become known to us?
The Christmas purpose has its roots in heaven itself.
God, in His amazing mercy, set in motion the solution to a catastrophe which occurred in Genesis 3: sin, which broke our perfect fellowship with Him.
With that in mind, what had happened before the fullness of time had come? The world was being prepared for the advent of Christ. A number of things had taken place:
• The announcement of an angel to Zacharias (Luke 1:5-23).
• The conception of John the Baptist (Luke 1:24-25).
• The announcement of the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:26-38).
• The announcement of the angel to Joseph (Matthew 1:18-25).
• Mary's visit to Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56).
• The journey of the holy family to Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-5).
The fullness of Mary's time had come. She had pondered these things in her heart during these months, and now the time had come. From the portals of heaven, Christmas was contemplated.
The next event was the incarnation through the virgin birth. This momentous event on which all history turns was unheralded, unattended, and unknown, except for the animals and the angels.
The Christmas purpose was manifest on earth.
Things had been happening on earth for quite some time. Prophecies had been fulfilled. The world had been prepared politically for the birth of Christ. The world conquest by Alexander the Great and the development of a common language — Greek — had helped to show the fullness of time. The world had been prepared morally. Heathenism, paganism, and false religions had buried God in the visible world. A literal God, an almighty God, the God of love was unknown in the midst of superstition and unbelief. All of the religious experience of the day had produced an epoch of despair. Philosophy and moral values had produced widespread corruption and a longing for better things.
The fullness of time had come. Other events that show this fullness of time are as follows:
• Jesus' birth in Bethlehem (Luke 2:6-7).
• The announcement that the angels made to the shepherds (Luke 2:8-14).
• The visit of the shepherds to the manger (Luke 2:15-20).
God's Son had come to earth! The impact of this event can never be measured. Henry Bosch made this comparison: "Socrates taught for forty years, Plato for fifty, Aristotle for forty, and Jesus for only three. Yet, the influence of Christ's three-year ministry infinitely transcends the impact left by the combined 130 years of teaching from these men who were among the greatest philosophers of all antiquity. Jesus painted no pictures; yet, some of the finest paintings of Raphael, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci received their inspiration from Him.
"Jesus wrote no poetry, but Dante, Milton, and scores of the world's greatest poets were inspired by Him. Jesus composed no music; still Haydn, Handel, Beethoven, Bach, and Mendelssohn reached their highest perfection of melody in the hymns, symphonies, and oratories they composed in His praise. Every sphere of human greatness has been enriched by this humble Carpenter of Nazareth."
The Christmas purpose is fulfilled in us.
It is a fundamental truth of God's Word that Christ is reborn in the regeneration of every child of God. Paul wrote, My children, again I am in the pains of childbirth for you until Christ is formed in you (Galatians 4:19). When a person is born again, it is literally true that there is another incarnation of God. We can say, "Christ lives in me."
When you are born again, Christmas comes to your heart. Have you crowned Christ King of kings in your heart? Are you ready to acknowledge Him as Lord and King?
If you will, Christmas will take on a whole new meaning. We need that — desperately.
Christmas is a special time. Once a shopping mall asked in a contest for people to describe Christmas in twenty-five words or less. The greatest of answers came forth when someone said, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."
In twenty-five words or less, the true meaning of Christmas was portrayed in a beautiful and powerful way. We know that John 3:16 tells the truth of God's gift to our world. Christ is the Savior of the world. He died to make satisfaction for your sins. I pray that all would accept the only authentic Christmas gift.
Frank Page is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, South Carolina.
When the Fullness of Time Had Come, God Sent Forth His Son…
by Morris H. Chapman
To whom did Jesus come? He came to the common person, the ordinary person — people like Anna the widow and Simeon the aged; shepherds working in the fields; a carpenter and his wife. He came to people like you and me.
The angels heralded a phenomenal message on that lonely hillside long ago. In its vertical dimension, it was a song of praise and worship: Glory to God in the highest. In its horizontal dimension, it was a message of hope and calling: And on earth, peace, goodwill toward men.
The birth of Jesus remains the central event in human history.
We may wonder why the Lord waited until a midpoint in history to present His Son. But, from God's perspective, this kairos represented the perfect time, the fullness of time. Prior to Bethlehem, human history had proven the point — apart from a Redeemer, even the best of us were as bad as we could get away with. The patriarchs and matriarchs needed oversized sandals for their feet of clay! But so do we! The sacrificial system itself was broken down — imperfect priests offering maimed animals for sin-laden people on the altar of God. Spiritual despair was rampant. Then God acted! Praise be to the Lord!
The birth of Jesus reveals the power of God for salvation.
Jesus was unique in His conception. Never before or since has one been conceived of the Holy Spirit. The Heavenly Father overshadowed Mary with supernatural presence. He implanted His Son in her womb.
Jesus was unique in His gestation. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Even prior to His birth, Jesus was Immanuel, God with us. In Mary's first trimester, Jesus, being the very fullness of the Godhead, caused Elizabeth to rejoice and John to leap when Mary entered the house.
Jesus was unique in His birth. Scripture is clear that Joseph "knew her not" until Mary had given birth to the Son of God. He was both virginally conceived and virginally born. There could be no mistake in this — this man-child was not the son of Joseph, but of God Himself.
Jesus is unique in His worth. No one else can do what He has done. At the consummation of the ages, we will sing the song of Revelation: Worthy is the Lamb that was slain. But we find Him worthy in time as well as in eternity.
He forgives all our sins.
He heals our diseases.
He weeps over the lost.
He intercedes for the saints.
He fills us with compassion.
He sends us as laborers.
He changes our hearts.
He transforms our lives.
The birth of Jesus reminds us of His gift of peace.
Our world is filled with strife. Many of our churches are filled with strife. So many homes are filled with strife. So many hearts — even of professing believers in Jesus — are filled with strife. Something has gone desperately wrong. What happened to the promise of peace? We have preached that peace will come only when we collectively come to know the Prince of Peace. But, even where He allegedly reigns in our hearts, there seems to be no peace.
My prayer for Southern Baptists this Christmas season is twofold.
One, I pray that we will look up with praise and adoration. Let us not only sing, but live and breathe the vertical message of the angels. May our hearts and lives resonate with the message "Glory to God in the highest." Jesus reminds us that we are the light of the world. We are to reflect Him in such a way that the world may see our good works and glorify the Father who is in heaven. The Apostle Paul reminds us that we have been bought with a price. We are to glorify God in body and in spirit, both of which belong to God.
Two, I pray for the peace with God to drive us to our knees in daily devotion and worship.
I pray for the peace of God to guard our hearts, to set up the sentinel of His presence, to drive away malice, wrath, anger, jealousy, pettiness, and bitter envy from our attitudes and actions.
I pray for the peace from God to radiate through us so that a seeking world will see the character of Christ being refined in each of us. In short, I pray that having looked up we will look out and flesh out the angels' message, "On earth, peace, goodwill toward men."
When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son. Has not another "fullness of time" come? If Southern Baptists are to fulfill the charge given by the Lord Himself, we face our own "fullness of time." We must again major on the majors. We must always contend earnestly for the faith. But more — we must seek and save that which is lost. We must equip the saints for the work of the ministry. We must build up the body of Christ. We must love one another.
In your heart and home, may this Christmas season be more than presents and parties, more than family and friends, more than busyness and business as usual. May it be a time when the Prince of Peace does a new work of grace, transforming our hearts, our homes, our churches, our communities, our cities, our counties, our states, our nation, and ultimately our world!
Morris H. Chapman is president and chief executive officer of the SBC Executive Committee.
by Jerry Rankin
Nothing refreshes the memories of my childhood as the Christmas season. Of course, I have not been able to hold that same level of excitement and anticipation over the years, but the festive decorations, lights, and sounds of the season bring a joy and sense of celebration that is timeless.
I can remember the wonder of seeing the Christmas tree lights turned on for the first time. I recall the suspense mounting as the pile of brightly-wrapped gifts grew under the tree; the days passing until they could be opened slowed to a snail's pace! Carolers, candlelight, church choir programs, and family reunions continue to enhance this time of the year with a special aura of celebration and blessing.
Accompanying this holiday season are a prolific schedule of church programs and socials. They do not just happen without a lot of work. Many church staff devote themselves to choir rehearsals, drama practice, and obligatory attendance at multiple groups' parties. It is a challenge to balance all the responsibilities and still come out of the fatiguing schedule with a celebratory spirit.
While our Christmas traditions have normally focused on family gatherings, when we arrived in Indonesia we found the focus of Christmas was at church. Most of the members did not have Christian families nor was Christmas celebrated in that Muslim country. The church family represented a special bonding, and the special worship services during the advent season would often last for hours.
As we look forward to Christmas, exchanging gifts, and holiday spirit, I thought about how God must have felt as the first Christmas approached. After all, it was something He had been planning for a long time. He had prepared a gift that would not be unwrapped and soon cast aside, but one that would make an eternal difference in those who would receive the gift of His son.
And that is why Christmas is so special. We commemorate that gift, and all the songs of joy, decorations, and giving to one another is because of what God has given to us. Christmas is a celebration of that good news proclaimed by the heavenly host on that night when, in the city of David, a Savior was born which was Christ the Lord.
But we must never forget the other part of the angels' message. It is recorded in Luke 2:10. This was to be good news of great joy to all people. Christmas is a reminder of our mission task. Unfortunately, only a few shepherds had the privilege of hearing that proclamation on the first Christmas night.
God has committed to us the responsibility of taking the message of the angels to the whole world. Like the shepherds who found Jesus in the stable in Bethlehem and worshipped Him, we have found Him; we worship Him and, like them, we are to tell all that we have seen and heard.
Just as God looked forward from the foundation of the world to sending His Son to earth to purchase redemption for a lost world, He must have observed with pleasure as Jesus lay in the manger and looked forward with anticipation to that day described in Revelation 7:9 when a multitude which no one could count from every nation, tribe, people, and language would be worshipping the Lamb that was born in Bethlehem and died for the sins of the world.
I praise God for you and for your commitment to our common cause, and I pray that He will richly bless you and your family as you celebrate this glorious season.
Jerry Rankin is president of the SBC International Mission Board.